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Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on January 27, 2016 under AM Bible Study |

AM Bible Study Group; January 27, 2016 from Revelation 3:1-6

Theme: A church can look outwardly alive to the world, but be dead in the sight of the Lord.

(All Scripture is taken from The New King James Version, unless otherwise indicated).

In this fifth of the seven letters, Jesus gives an evaluation of the church at Sardis that is shocking. It was apparently a prosperous church in a prosperous community. From the strictly human viewpoint of those who would see it, it would seem to be vital and relevant. It may even have had people from the unbelieving world drawn to it. It fit in, was respected, and enjoyed the prosperity around it. And yet, the evaluation of the Lord Jesus came like a dreadful blow. It was ‘dead’.

This letter teaches us what it means for a church to be “dead” in our Lord’s eyes. But what’s more, He teaches us what needs to be done about it. It describes a condition that many churches today can be found in; particularly churches with a long history. Such churches can live prosperously, comfortably, and with a good reputation and an admirable tradition before men; but the whole time long be—in the sight of their Lord—living a lie. They may have a reputation of being living, vital churches that large numbers of people flock to; while, in reality, are spiritually dead and unresponsive in the eyes of God. Any church is in danger of falling into this condition.


A. Sardis was one of the great centers of wealth in its day; and one of the greatest cities of the ancient world. It had been the capital city of Lydia in Asia Minor; and had been famous for being the the home of the famous and wealthy King Croesus. It had suffered two terrible defeats in its history. The first time was from the Persian empire in the sixth century B.C. When Cyrus the Meade conquered it, he found the equivalent of multiple millions of dollars worth of booty within it. The second from the Syrian king Antiochus the Great in the third century B.C. In both cases, the defeat that this city suffered had come about because of the complacency and lack of diligence on the part of its leaders. In 17 A.D., it was destroyed by a devastating earthquake; but the Roman emperor Tiberius made it possible for the city to be rebuilt by excusing it from taxes for five years. By the time this letter was dictated by the Lord Jesus, Sardis was once again a busy and prosperous commercial and industrial city—particularly in the field of garments. It was the place in which the art of dyeing wool was invented.

B. Historians tell us that the church in Sardis was begun through the preaching of John. But just like the city of Sardis itself, the church in it had grown lax. It had come to rest on its past glories and had become softened through its prosperity. It had settled into a comfortable co-existence with the pagan culture that surrounded it. In short, its careless confidence had lulled it into a state of spiritual ‘deadness’.

C. Note how the Lord introduces Himself. He has “the seven Spirits of God” (see 1:4; 4:5) and “the seven stars” (1:16, 20; 2:1). This becomes very significant whenever Jesus speaks to the problems of His churches. A church can have an appearance of being something that it’s not in the eyes of the world, or even in the eyes of other churches. But Jesus knows the truth. He holds possession of the Spirit who works in the midst of each of His churches; and He holds its leaders in the palm of His right hand. No church can successfully maintain a mere ‘storefront image’ in His eyes. He knows the truth and is able to speak authoritatively to its real condition.

D. He knew all about what the church had done. At this point in its history, it was a church that had been in existence for around 40 years—about the generation’s time; and no doubt, in its history, it had done many great things. It had grown to rest on the reputation of its fine works of the past; but Jesus issues this surprising verdict on its condition in the light of all these great works: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” Its apparent “life” as a church was in reputation only. In actual fact, it was “dead” in the sense that it was unresponsive and unproductive in the eyes of God.

II. THE CAUSE (v. 2).

The Lord Jesus Christ is a good physician of His church. He knows how to make an accurate diagnosis. He had examined this church and found the cause of its deadness to be that its works were not “perfect” before God. This isn’t saying that the Lord demands “perfection”. That, of course, is a humanly unachievable standard in our present state before Him. Rather, it means that Jesus found its works to be “incomplete”. They started strong, but fell short. They may have done works in the sight of men that were considered complete. But they were incomplete in the sight of God. They were not done with the whole-hearted devotion that had once characterized it in its ‘living’ state; and the church had settled into a “good enough” attitude. They had grown—as many churches have today—to be satisfied with a ‘half-baked’ standard of performance for the Lord’s work that would never have been accepted in the kind of work that the city was known for in business and industry.

III. THE CURE (vv. 2-3).

This church—so attractive and reputable on the outside; as if robed in fine clothing before the eyes of men—was in serious trouble. It needed to be put immediately into ICU. The good news, it appears, is that a ‘dead’ church can be revived and brought back to life. The Lord Jesus offered a five-fold remedy—summed up in the phrases, (1) “Be watchful”, (2) “strengthen what remains”, (3) “Remember”, (4) “hold fast”, and (5) “repent”.

A. The church needed to “Be watchful”. It is in danger of being lulled into complacent ‘deadness’ by the approval of the world or by the glories of past ministry. The prosperity and comforts of this world—not necessarily wrong things in themselves—can have an anesthetizing effect on the soul of a church. Prosperity, in that sense, can be a great detriment unless a church is watchful of the danger!

B. It needed to “strengthen the things which remain”. It had certain spiritual qualities that the Lord Jesus warns “are ready to die”. Such a church needs to go back and see the things that the Lord truly values, and how they received them; and to restore those things that are weak. It needed to renew itself in its spiritual disciplines.

C. It needs to strengthen its remaining qualities by going back to “remember therefore how you have received and heard”. How did it receive and hear the gospel originally? It must have heard with great zeal and with earnest repentance (see 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; 2 Peter 1:9-10). It now needed to go back to the original steps of faith in God’s grace; and recall again what it was that God had graciously saved it from. It must not rest on the past works, but seek to continually grow in Him in as much current vitality as when they first received Him.

D. It must “hold fast”. It needed to have a sense of shock and dread at how close it came to dying out; and see how easily it had been lulled from passion toward the Lord. And in response, it must cease from passively resting in its former reputation, and aggressively take hold of the things it now has in the Lord. Those things are in danger of slipping from its grasp—or of being yanked from them by the devil.

E. It must also “repent” of its passivity. It must (as that word means) “change its mind” about its situation; and see its situation—not as the world may see it—but as the Lord declares it to be. It must cease from glorying in its outward reputation, and now see itself as being in the dangerous spiritual condition that the Lord says that it’s in.


If the church in Sardis did not respond as it should, the Lord will come suddenly—at a time when it doesn’t expect Him—and find them unprepared. The Lord speaks of such times of unexpected coming “as a thief” at the end of the age (see Matthew 24:45-51; Revelation 16:15; 22:7, 12, 20). But this seems to be a different kind of coming—a coming upon this particular church in a time of judgment. This “coming” seems more like what the Lord Jesus told the church in Ephesus: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5).


There were some “names” in the church (“even in Sardis”) that had not “defiled their garments” through losing their zeal or resting on a comfortable reputation in the world. Garments were, of course, a highly valued item in the ancient world; and Sardis was famous for them. Ancient writings have suggested that if a worshiper wore garments that were soiled, they were excluded from the worship in the pagan temples. Here, the Lord speaks—in the language that the Sardisian Christians would understand—about how He values those who have not defiled their garments before Him through the sins of negligence and indifference and compromise with the world. Some others in the church in Sardis may have had a reputation with the world as being vibrant Christians; but Jesus saw the spiritual “garments” of those others as “defiled” in His sight. He says that only they who wear “undefiled” spiritual garments on earth are “worthy” to walk with Him in white robes of heavenly glory (Revelation 16:15; 19:8).


He promises that all who overcome shall be clothed in white garments; and He will not blot their names out of the book of life, but confess them before His Father and His angels. This is not a warning that someone’s name is in the book but will be scratched out. Rather, it’s meant to be an assurance that the names of those who walk uprightly before Him will never be scratched out. As Jesus said elsewhere:

“Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

“Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:27-33).

IIV. THE CALL (v. 6).

This is a word of warning to all the churches. It would include our own. To check our own condition as a church before the Lord, we should ask: How well attended are our prayer meetings? How committed are we to not only hearing the word of God together, but also to putting it into action in our corporate and personal lives? How quick are we to deal with sin in our midst, and to the loving restoration of those who repent? How zealous are we for getting the gospel out to others, and how much of our time and resources do we give to evangelism and missions? How much is the Lord Jesus Christ the focus of our worship together? Is our love for other people clearly a response to a love for the Lord Jesus first? These are good questions to ask before the Lord, if we want to know whether or not our church is truly living and vital in His sight.

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