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The warning to Christians in Sardis, in Revelation chapter 3, is one of a series of messages to the seven churches that existed in the area of what was called Asia Minor at the end of the first century A.D.
Christ urged the Church in Sardis to wake up, repent, and strengthen their spiritual life in order to resist the temptations of the times in which they were living. Their situation mirrors the world we live in as 21st century Christians, and is very relevant to us today. It is a warning to avoid complacency, and be prepared for unexpected events in the near future. Christ told the Christians in Sardis, "You're alive, but you're dead” (Revelation 3:1), meaning they were content with their situation and unaware of spiritual dangers and pitfalls.
A story about ancient Sardis, related by the historian Herodotus, helps us comprehend what Christ is saying. The city of Sardis Sardis was thought to be unconquerable. Croesus, the king of Sardis in the sixth century B.C. thought his army and city were large and wealthy enough to invade the neighboring kingdom of Persia, ruled at that time by Cyrus the Great.
The outcome of the battle was inconclusive, and Croesus withdrew back to Sardis, his home base. As it was wintertime, when armies didn't fight, he assumed Cyrus would not resume fighting until spring, but he was wrong. Cyrus followed him, and besieged him in his mountaintop fortress. Croesus, overconfident of his safety, had not posted enough guards, and a Persian soldier discovered an unguarded way into the Acropolis, enabling the Persians to capture the city. This story was subsequently told throughout the ancient world, leading to the reputation of Sardis being complacent.
Many commentators feel this story lies behind Christ’s warning to the Christans in Sardis not to fall into the trap of complacency, because of pride and a wrong assessment of their spiritual state. Christ told them to repent and be alert lest He come to them as a thief on the night (Revelation 3:2). The Christians in Sardis may have been on fire for the truth at one time, but that fire had faded. They may have been loving and generous, but time had eroded that passion.
Sardis, the city, was among the oldest and most famous in the ancient world of Asia Minor. The city fathers continually appealed to their past glory, but by the late first century, when Christ delivered this message, Sardis was long past its prime and the Church in the same rut. Christ admonished the Chriistians there: "Be watchful, strengthen the things that remain, that are ready to die. For I have not found your works perfect before God". The term "to be watchful" means to be alert and in a state of readiness. It’s easy to become complacent, thinking everything will always be the same.
The Christians in Sardis were told their works had been examined and found lacking. As we read this, we need to ask ourselves what our spiritual condition is like. Do we need to wake up to the reality of our spiritual condition?
Christ is preparing His Church as a bride for the coming marriage at His second coming. Revelation 19:7 tells us: "Let us be glad and rejoice and give glory for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His wife has made herself ready." The wife here is the Church. Christ is not going to marry a Church that's asleep. Christ's Church, at the end of the age, will be watchful,and engaged in the mission given to it by God, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. We live in a world of great change and peril. Parts of the world are experiencing war, pestilence and famine, and there are also those who speak in Christ's name, but spread false religion.
The book of Revelation tells us we are living at a time just before the appearance of a great world power, described as Babylon the Great, that will dominate and deceive the world just before the return of Jesus Christ. Those who do not know the true God and His son, Jesus Christ, will be caught unaware and deceived. We can read about this in Revelation 17, where we are told ten kings will give their power and authority to a political leader, referred to as the beast and a religious leader called the false prophet, who will emerge on the world scene in a time of crisis, just before Christ's return.
The Apostle Paul in I Thessalonians 5:1-6 warns us: "Concerning the times and the seasons… you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say 'peace and safety,' then sudden destruction comes…But you brethren are not in darkness so that this day should overtake you as a thief ... Therefore, let us not sleep as others do. But let us watch and be sober." This warning mirrors the words of Christ to the church at Sardis not to become complacent.
The purpose of prophecy is to give Christians hope for the future and an understanding of today's world, which should prod us to live transformed lives, in submission to God. Christ's final comments to the church at Sardis point to the hope of the future reward in the coming Kingdom of God: "He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments and I shall not blot out his name from the book of life. But I will confess His name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 3:5-6).
United News (June 2006)