“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‘”
We now turn to the fifth church that Jesus addresses.
And to the angel of the church in Sardis write
Sardis, located about 35 miles southeast of Thyatira on an important trade route, was a wealthy city. This trade route ran east/west through the kingdom of Lydia. Sardis’ industries included textiles, dye, and jewelry.
It was also a center of pagan worship. Temples of Artemis and Augustus stood there. Today the city of Sart stands on the site. It also had a temple dedicated to Augustus. Archeologists found an ancient Christian church building next to this temple, and they also discovered one of the largest ancient synagogues ever found, seating about 1,000 people. The Jewish community must have been very large in Sardis. The primary cult of the city was the Cybele cult.
An earthquake in A.D. 17 destroyed the Hellenistic city. Tiberius and Claudius rebuilt the city.
These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars:
Jesus describes Himself as the one who holds the “seven Spirits of God and the seven stars” (note Re 1:4, 20). It is possible to translate “the seven Spirits of God” as “the sevenfold Spirit.” If this is accurate, then “seven Spirits” may refer to manifestations of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:2-5). The “seven stars” refer to the seven pastors of the seven churches. No church can have an effective ministry without dependency on the Holy Spirit.
I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive,
Note that Jesus does not begin with a word of commendation as He does in other letters.
Jesus again assesses this church. Evidently, other churches regarded them as a lively church. The church at Sardis gained a reputation (name) for being an outstanding church but lost much of its spiritual punch. We can hide nothing from an omniscient Lord.
Many churches have a great deal of declaration but little authenticity. Churches love to be fashionable. They fear to take a stand that would cast them in the light of oddity. They want respectability above all. That is their core value. Is this a true picture of what churches should be?
but you are dead
The church at Sardis had a reputation for orthodoxy and of sterling past ministry. This church had a reputation for being alive, but they were, in reality, a dead church (cf. Matthew 23:27-28). A minority of Christians “soiled their garments” (3:4). Although they appear alive, they are dead spiritually.
There is a difference between the reputation of a church and the reality of its spiritual dynamic.
Churches can be spiritually dead. Churches can be full of ministries and activity having a reputation as spiritual giants but, at the same time, be spiritually dead.
Churches need to take stock of their spiritual condition. Both individual Christians and individual churches flag in their spirituality from time to time. Churches that have gained great reputations for winning people to Christ and building believers within the church can lose their spiritual animation. Their reputation is still there, but their power is gone. Deadness of spirituality is the norm.
If you attend a dead church and do not realize the church is dead, that may be because you are dead yourself. People freezing to death are so numb that all they want to do is sleep. If they go to sleep, they will die. Many churches are putting people to spiritual sleep, to their spiritual ruin.
Most churches do not die in one fell swoop. They die gradually. Almost all liberal churches today started as evangelical churches. Churches die by degree. Is your church [and you as an individual member] dying gradually?