1 And to the angel of the church of Sardis1 write:
The one who has the seven Spirits of God2 and the seven stars says this: I know your deeds, that you have a name3, that you are alive4, but5 you are dead.6 2 Wake up7 and strengthen8 the things that remain which were about to die9, for I have not found your deeds completed10 before my God. 3 Therefore, remember what you have received and heard; guard it11 and repent! Therefore, if you don’t wake up12, I will come like a thief13 and you will never know what hour I will come upon you. 4 But you have a few people of reputation14 in Sardis who have not defiled15 their clothes16, and they will walk with me in white17, because they are worthy18 . 5 The one who conquers in this way will clothe himself in white clothes and I will never erase19 his name from the book of life20 and I will confess his name before my father and before his angels. 6 The one who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
1 Sardis had long been a city. It was founded around 1200 B.C. and was thought to be an impregnable military stronghold, but was captured twice by armies who had evaded the watchmen of the city by scaling a cliff that was not being watched and opened the gates. That history will influence the writing of the letter.
Sardis was also a very wealthy city and was the first city to mint gold. It had a large but unfinished temple to Artemis and was one of the first cities to ask to build a temple to a Caesar. In 17 A.D., an earthquake devastated the city and the Emperor Augustus aided the city in rebuilding. Sardis minted a coin with Augustus’ likeness and asked if they could erect a temple in his honor. Augustus granted the request, but not to Sardis. It was erected in Smyrna.
Sardis had a large Jewish population and had one of the largest synagogues ever excavated. Osborne*** (Pgs. 171-174).
Sardis had the Greek goddess Artemus as its patron deity, which “was believed to possess the special power of restoring the dead to life”. Mounce** (Pg. 109).
Apparently, as we will see as we go further, the life they had was in fact death. A lifeless god or goddess cannot and does not give life, and there is only one Living God.
This may give us insight on why these seven churches out of many were chosen as a vehicle for Christ to speak to the Church then and now. The things that each church struggled with are things we struggle with today. These are universal problems that span time. Jesus tailored each letter to address the particular issue at hand. He identified Himself differently to each church, and likewise were the promised rewards, but His message was for all the churches.
The context of place, time, and issue all serve to convey the intended and needed message.
The fact that seven churches were included implies the letters contain the fullness and completeness of God’s word to us.
2 τὰ ἑπτὰ πνεύματα τοῦ θεοῦ (the seven Spirits of God)
The seven Spirits are representing the light of the lamps that are on the golden lamp-stands. The light represents a churches “witness”. The imagery is presented to the church of Sardis as a clue to what is wrong with the church. Beale* (Pg. 274).
3 ὄνομα (a name)
In ancient times, a name was associated with one’s reputation. If one
had a “good name”, they they were of good reputation.
There is but one name that offers salvation, which is life.
4 ζῇς (you are alive)
Greek: “you are living”. Osborne*** sees this as being a figurative name. “that you have a name, that you are (your name is) “alive”, but you are (your name is) “dead”.
The seed had been sown, though instead of growing, it languished in the weeds of the world. The weeds of ignorance threatened to strangle the life of the gospel.
5 καὶ (but)
6 In other words, people see your reputation, they see that you are physically alive, but you are spiritually dead.
7 γίνου γρηγορῶν (Wake up!)
or “Be alert!” or “Be watchful”. Wake up from the point of being dead. Watch what is going on around you. One can see how the history of the city influenced the use of “Be watchful”. Mounce** (Pgs. 110-111).
Like the parable of the virgins with not enough oil, the believers are in danger of waking one day, with too little and too late to leave with the groom. Christ will come for the harvest.
8 στήρισον (strengthen)
or “support” or possibly “to reinforce”. In light of the history of the city, the church in Sardis would have understood this term as “reinforce where you are weakest”. The watchmen are on the wall watching, but they are few in number. (See verse 4).
9 The imagery here is probably referring the light (witness) of the church that is about to die out. The need to “strengthen” the lamp spiritually so that the Spirit of God will replenish the lamp’s light, thus replenishing the churches witness. The church of Sardis had allowed their witness/ light to go dim to the point that it was going out.
From Christ’s viewpoint, their life is in danger of death. The roots of the gospel are not fully established. While there is still life, it is tenuous.
10 πεπληρωμένα (completed)
Greek: “having been completed”. This participle is in the present tense. It basically means that the members of this church have some more work to do.
11 τήρε (guard it)
or “keep it”. “Guard it” fits the context better.
We are encouraged in other places to guard our hearts. It is there the battle wages, and where victory or defeat takes place.
12 μὴ γρηγορήσῃς (you don’t wake up)
or “not alert” or “not watchful”. Note the same imagery of the history of
13 The probably is an allusion to Matthew 24:43, but also builds on the history of the city where it was defeated twice.
14 ὀνόματα (people of reputation)
Greek: “names”. Names that are also not named “dead”.
15 or “soiled”. To make their clothes dirty.
16 A distant echo of Isaiah 65:4 (LXX) where the staining of clothes
refers to idolatry. Beale* (Pg. 276).
17 White clothing has long been associated with being pure and undefiled, but here it may have a greater meaning for the church in Sardis. When the Roman army would win a battle, they would dress the soldiers in white and march them in front of the people to celebrate the victory. After two shameful defeats of the city, the idea that the “victors in Christ” will be presented in white clothing would have been a great reward. Osborne*** (Pgs. 178-179).
18 The “worthy” had not compromised their faith to idol worship just to fit into the city’s society.
It is the name of those whose name is written in the book of life.
19 ἐξαλείψω (erase)
or “wipe away”.
This may offer difficulty for those holding to the idea of “once saved, always saved” without due consideration of the life Jesus requires. It is written that no one can be snatched from His hand. It is also written that for the one found faithful and endures to the end will reap the rewards of Christ. It does not say you are unable to walk away.
20 In the Hellenistic world that Sardis was in, “the erasure of a name (from the city records) meant exclusion from the commonwealth or community. When Greeks were convicted of a serious crime, their names were removed from the civic register. In the OT removal of a name was associated with capital punishment (Deut. 29:20) and erasure from the national memory (Amalek in Exod. 17:14; Deut. 25:19). Osborne*** (Pg. 180).
NT = New Testament
OT = Old Testament
ESV = English Standard Version
NASB = New American Standard Bible
KJV = King James Version
TR = Textus Receptus (A late Byzantine Greek text of the NT. A
predecessor of the TR was used in the translation of the KJV)
LXX = Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT)
The Greek New Testament with Greek-English Dictionary B. Aland (Editor), K. Aland (Editor), J. Karavidopoulos (Editor), B. M. Metzger (Editor), C. M. Martini (Editor)
(BDAG) A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition Walter Bauer (Author), Frederick William Danker (Editor)
A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament Bruce M. Metzger
(Kittel) Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (VOLUMES 1-10) Gerhard Kittel (Editor), Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Translator)
*The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.).) G. K. Beale
**The Book of Revelation (The New International Commentary on the New Testament) Robert H. Mounce
***Revelation (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) Grant R. Osborne
+Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics Daniel B. Wallace
++An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek C. F. D. Moule
+++Biblical Greek (Scripta Pontificii Instituti Biblici) Maximilian Zerwick
A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament Max Zerwick (Author), Mary Grosvenor (Author)
Ἀποκάλυψις 3·1 Καὶ τῷ ἀγγέλῳ τῆς ἐν Σάρδεσιν ἐκκλησίας γράψον· Τάδε λέγει ὁ ἔχων τὰ ἑπτὰ πνεύματα τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ τοὺς ἑπτὰ
ἀστέρας· οἶδά σου τὰ ἔργα ὅτι ὄνομα ἔχεις ὅτι ζῇς, καὶ νεκρὸς εἶ. 2 γίνου γρηγορῶν καὶ στήρισον τὰ λοιπὰ ἃ ἔμελλον ἀποθανεῖν, οὐ γὰρ εὕρηκά σου τὰ ἔργα πεπληρωμένα ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ μου. 3 μνημόνευε οὖν πῶς εἴληφας καὶ ἤκουσας καὶ τήρει καὶ μετανόησον. ἐὰν οὖν μὴ γρηγορήσῃς, ἥξω ὡς κλέπτης, καὶ οὐ μὴ γνῷς ποίαν ὥραν ἥξω ἐπὶ σέ. 4 ἀλλὰ ἔχεις ὀλίγα ὀνόματα ἐν Σάρδεσιν ἃ οὐκ ἐμόλυναν τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτῶν, καὶ περιπατήσουσιν μετ ̓ ἐμοῦ ἐν λευκοῖς, ὅτι ἄξιοί εἰσιν.
Ἀποκάλυψις 3·5 Ὁ νικῶν οὕτως περιβαλεῖται ἐν ἱματίοις λευκοῖς καὶ οὐ μὴ ἐξαλείψω τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ἐκ τῆς βίβλου τῆς ζωῆς καὶ ὁμολογήσω τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ἐνώπιον τοῦ πατρός μου καὶ ἐνώπιον τῶν ἀγγέλων αὐτοῦ. Ἀποκάλυψις 3·6 Ὁ ἔχων οὖς ἀκουσάτω τί τὸ πνεῦμα λέγει ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις.