Thursday, 1 October 2020
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write,
‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Revelation 3:1
Chapter 3 begins with the address to the fifth church singled out by Jesus. He begins with, “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write.” As before, the “angel” is probably a designation for the leader of the church, not an angelic being. The church is in “Sardis.” In Greek, Sardis is a plural noun and is translated by the NET Bible as “Red Ones.” The etymology of the name is uncertain.
Of Sardis, Charles Ellicott (1819-1905) writes –
“The modern Sart—now a mere village of paltry huts—once the capital of the old Lydian monarchy, and associated with the names of Crœsus, Cyrus, and Alexander. It was the great entrepôt of dyed woollen fabrics, the sheep of “many-flocked” Phrygia supplying the raw material. The art of dyeing is said to have been invented here; and many-coloured carpets or mats found in the houses of the wealthy were manufactured here. The metal known as electrum, a kind of bronze, was the produce of Sardis; and in early times gold-dust was found in the sand of the Pactolus, the little stream which passed through the Agora of Sardis, and washed the walls of the Temple of Cybele. It is said that gold and silver coins were first, minted at Sardis, and that resident merchants first became a class there. An earthquake laid it waste in the reign of Tiberius; a pestilence followed, but the city seems to have recovered its prosperity before the date of this epistle. The worship of Cybele was the prevailing one; its rites, like those of Dionysos and Aphrodite, encouraged impurity.”
To the church in this location, Jesus’ opening words are, “These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God.” Here the symbology is different than presented in Revelation 1. Of the seven Spirits, it said, “and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne” (1:4). The Greek word translated as “has” signifies to have, hold, or possess. Christ is the One to whom these seven Spirits of God are ascribed. They are before the throne, but they are possessed by Christ. That was explained in the words of Isaiah 11 cited in the 1:4 commentary –
“There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,
And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him,
The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and might,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.” Isaiah 11:1, 2
Upon the Son rests the “sevenfold Spirit” – The Spirit of the (1) Lord, meaning Yehovah; the Spirit of (2) wisdom and (3) understanding; the Spirit of (4) counsel and (5) might; the Spirit of (6) knowledge and of (7) the fear of the Lord. Thus, He “has” or “possesses” these seven Spirits of God.
Further, Christ Jesus says to the church in Sardis, “and the seven stars.” In verse 1:16, it noted that the seven stars were in His right hand. Those seven stars were explicitly explained in verse 1:20 as being “the angels of the seven churches.” Being in His right hand, it then means that He has total control and authority over them. With this understood, He then says, “I know your works.”
It is the same phrase repeated to each of the churches so far. He is letting each church know that He is fully aware of every deed they do. Nothing escapes His sight. With this said, He then explains what their most prominent works are with the words, “that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.”
Because of these words, it becomes clear why He chose to say to this church that He has the seven Spirits of God. He has the Spirit of Yehovah and thus possesses all authority. He has the Spirit of wisdom and will rightly apply that authority toward this dead church. He has the Spirit of understanding concerning their situation, their needs, their destiny, and so on. He has the Spirit of counsel to redirect them, if they will but listen. He has the Spirit of might to execute punishment upon them. He has the Spirit of knowledge that knows the end from the beginning and can lead the church in the correct path, if they will but follow. And, He has the Spirit of the fear of the Lord – something they currently lack (as will be seen), and which is necessary for them to also possess in order to avoid the promised judgment upon them.
The church at Sardis possessed all kinds of works. People saw the things they did and certainly passed on to others how industrious they were – “you have a name that you are alive.” However, all the works in the world, without faith to accompany them, are useless. James speaks about faith without works being dead, but the truth is that any work not done in faith is of no value to the Lord.
Life application: As noted, the name Sardis means “Red Ones.” It is fitting of a church full of dead people. Isaiah saw the need for cleansing from a dead-red condition almost eight hundred years earlier – “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool’” (Isaiah 1:18).
It isn’t our “works” that will cleanse us. In fact, the things we do often separate us further from God. This is because we are trusting in ourselves to earn eternal life and are thus setting ourselves up as idols. It is amazing how the very things we think will earn God’s favor only cause the division to widen. Jesus has done all that is necessary for us to be saved, and it is faith in Him alone that can justify us.
The health of the church is evaluated, and then Jesus exercises His authority. In the case of Sardis, the checking had been done and the church was found deficient. They, as a group, receive no commendation – only rebuke. Coming up in a few verses is a great word of comfort for some individuals though.
Lord, please look on our churches, and give us the desire to revitalize them in the areas where they are found spiritually dead. Help us to do works that are honoring of and for You. And Lord, help us to never trust in our deeds in order to obtain Your favor. Rather, let us do them only to bring You glory. Amen.