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3:1 “And to the angel of the assembly in Sardis, the capital of Lydia, which was a prosperous exporter of textiles and jewelry in John’s time. It held a large Jewish presence; archaeology has uncovered a synagogue “three times larger than any synagogue preserved in Palestine,” dating from the early third century. In the Second Century CE, it was the home of Bishop Melito, an early Christian writer who was the first to give us a list of the canon of the Tanakh. His canon excluded Esther, but is otherwise identical to the Tanakh that is contained in Protestant bibles today—it does not list a single apocryphal (or deuterocanonical) book.
Seiss states that some “have derived [Sardis’ name] from the Hebrew, and have assigned it the signification of remnant or an escaped few. Ebrard finds for it an etymological derivation denoting something new, or renewed.” Both interpretations, as we shall see, are appropriate.
The city of Sardis was repeatedly an example of pride leading to a fall:
So wealthy were the Lydian kings that Croesus became a byword for wealth. Unfortunately, Croesus also became a legend for pride and presumptuous arrogance, when his attack on Persia led to the fall of Sardis and the eclipse of his kingdom. Cyrus and the Persians captured the citadel in a surprise attack in 549 BC, as did the Romans three centuries later . . .
Other noted defeats included:
- Burned by the Ionians in 501 BCE
- Captured by Alexander the Great in 334 BCE
- Antigonus in 322 BCE
- Walls scaled by a Cretian in 218 BCE
- Destroyed by an earthquake in 17 CE
To this proud assembly, Yeshua says write: “He who has the seven Spirits of God, a Spirit lacking in the assembly of Sardis, and the seven stars, He who holds all of the messengers of all the assemblies and walks among all of them says these things to those who proudly boast of being the only true Ekklesia of the Living Messiah: “I know your works, that you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. As Barnhouse noted in the 1970s, “Go throughout Christendom . . . and you will often find the Gospel in a coffin. . . And the sterility of churches in America is nothing compared to that which is found in the Protestantism of the Continent.” Indeed, whether one speaks to Pentecostals or atheists who have been to Europe, the report is sadly the same: “The Church is dead over there.” They have no Spirit, and as the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead (Jas. 2:26). Paul warned us that in the last days, grievous times will come. For men will be . . . holding a form of godliness, but having denied its power. Turn away from these, also (2Ti. 3:1-2, 5).
Notes on Martin Luther
How did this come to be? Our King gives us the answer: 3:2 Wake up, and keep the things that remain, which are about to die, for I have found no works of yours perfected, that is, complete, before my God. It is not as if Sardis has no works, but that it is not carrying its works out to completion. We see this same pattern followed out in the Reformation. While it restored an understanding that salvation is by the Holy One’s grace, received by faith alone, and not by works and of restoring the Scriptures to their pre-eminence over tradition, it did not go on to restore a Biblical understanding of the Torah, Israel, prophecy, the gifts of the Spirit, home fellowships, and so forth—and in fact actively opposed those who tried to do so. Like Pergamos, the other end of its branch, Sardis has some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans likewise (Rev. 2:15) and remains married to both Hashem and to the world.
3:3 Remember therefore how you have received and heard. Keep it, and repent. What did the Reformation receive and hear? They received the Word of God, after it had been hidden from the common people for a thousand years, and championed sola scriptura, but did not follow that to its conclusion. As Pastor John Robinson bid the pilgrims of the Mayflower as they set out to the New World:
For my part, I cannot sufficiently bewail the condition of the reformed churches, who are come to a period in religion, and will go no farther than the instruments of their reformation. The Lutherans cannot be drawn to go any farther than what Luther saw, and the Calvinists, you see, stick fast where they were led by that great man of God, who yet saw not all things. This is a misery much to be lamented; for while they were burning and shining lights in their time, yet they penetrated not into the whole counsel of God, but were they now living, would be as willing to embrace further light as that which they first received. . . [for] it is not possible [that] the Christian world should come so lately out of such thick antichristian darkness, and that full perfection of knowledge should break forth at once.
If therefore having received this warning to follow through in your pursuit of Scriptural truth until you achieve a complete Reformation, you won’t watch and refuse to discern the signs of the times (Mat. 16:3), I will come as a thief in the night. For when they are saying, “Peace and safety,” then sudden destruction will come on them, like birth pains on a pregnant woman; and they will in no way escape (1Th. 5:2-3). And you won’t know what hour I will come upon you, for you quench the Spirit and despise prophecies (1Th. 5:19-20). You should not be in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief. You are all children of light, and children of the day. We don’t belong to the night, nor to darkness, so then let’s not sleep, as the rest do, but let’s watch and be sober (1Th. 5:4-6).
3:4 Nevertheless you have a few names in Sardis that did not defile their garments, who did not think that the salvation offered by grace excused them from good works. They will walk with me in white, bright, pure, fine linen: for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the holy ones (Rev. 19:8), for they are worthy, For we are his workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them (Eph. 2:10).
3:5 He who overcomes will be arrayed in the white garments of his righteous deeds, and I will in no way blot his name out of the book of life. In Jewish tradition, each year between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Holy One judges all mankind and determines whether to write them in the book of life. Thus religious Jews repent, fast, and pray each year leading up to and on Yom Kippur in the hopes of once again being written in the Book of Life for another year. But for those who put their trust and loyalty into the Messiah Yeshua—For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world: your faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Yeshua is the Son of God? (1Jn. 5:4-5)—there need never be fear of being left out of His book ever again.
And I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels, for he who 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 (Mat. 10:32-33). 3:6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies.