Commentary and Exegesis on Rev. 3:1-6
Rev. 3:1-6 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. ‘Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. ‘So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. ‘But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and 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.’ [All Scripture is from the ESV unless otherwise noted.]
It is coming near to the end of the 1st century A.D. and most (if not all) of the other epistles are already written. The earliest date for the completion of Revelation is roughly in year 68, while the latest is around 97. Regardless as to when exactly this book was written, we know that the churches it was written to were facing hard times. This book can be misinterpreted as a “book of misfortune and fear” when not examined carefully. In reality, however, it is quite the contrary to this idea.
Specifically, this book was directly written to 7 churches in Asia Minor. These churches were a part of the Roman empire, and were tremendously influenced by the culture of the day. These churches were as follows: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. There are several issues being addressed to these churches. Four things stick out more than anything else while examining the overarching context of the book of Revelation.
It seems that the main points being brought up to these churches are 2 different types of warnings, and two different types of hope. The first of these four is that there is a warning of physical harm in the near future. The physical harm involved both fleshly abuse and discrimination towards the Christians who worship in these cities. Second, there is a hope for those who endure this physical harm. There will be justice for the evil and justice for the righteous. Everyone will have what justice requires of them in the end. So endure the physical hardships until the end! Third, there is warning concerning spiritual harm. By this time most all the instructions were given that Christians would need to do the will of God. God never said that he requires perfection, however, He does require the Christian to have the right heart, and to do their best. Some correction was given to those who were not trying their best and not having the right heart. Encouragement was given to those who were doing what God required. Jesus spoke these things through John. John’s authority to correct these churches was from Christ. He warns them that if they do not continue in God’s will, that they would suffer with the evil. Finally, the fourth point is that there is hope for the spirits of those who endure in God’s will.
These four principles are truths that are both applicable and necessary for Christians in today’s society. We still have persecution, we still have God’s will, but we still have grace and justice through our Lord Jesus. This series will focus on these four principles, but also more detailed theological principles concerning the church at Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6.
Cultural Context of Sardis
Sardis was the capital of the kingdom of Lydia. It was one of the oldest and most important cities of Asia Minor. It was also located inland and built on a small, elevated plateau that stood above the Hermus Valley. All of the sides but one are naturally blocked with rock walls that are smooth and straight. It was basically unclimbable. The only access is on the southern side. Commerce grew more complex and the high plateau became too small. Then lower city was built on the west side. It became very wealthy through carpet and other merchandise.
Sardis was ruled by the Persians, by Alexander the Great, and finally by the Romans. It was destroyed by an earthquake during the reign of Tiberius. They worshiped Cybele who was known as Diana in Ephesus, but when you get inland, she becomes a nature goddess. She was the goddess of the moon, and they also worshiped Apollo who was the god of the sun. They were brother and sister. There are still remains of this double-temple today. It is one of the few double-temples that you will find. They also made a habit of worshiping their kings and their emperors.
What They had Right
Sadly, the church at Sardis only had two good things said about them in the text. The first thing is their good works. They had a reputation of good works. This is good because we know that without works, there is no true faith. The Apostle James tells us that faith without works is dead. Faith is the evidence of the hope that is within us. Faith requires substance or else it is not faith. What we “do” does not save us, but Faith, which IS what saves us, produces what we “do.”
Believing without action is just that; believing. We also are told that even demons believe and tremble. Are we no better than they? Of course we are better! Our belief is an active belief. The word “faith” is better translated as “an active trust.” If one actively trusts in an all-loving and powerful being, they are compelled to use that trust (faith) to do things to accomplish that being’s will.
Also, Jesus tells us that they will know we are disciples of Him by the love we have for one another. This love also requires action. We are to do good to all men, especially those in the household of faith. John says in is first epistle to love not only in word, but also in deed. Love is more than just an emotion. Love is a way of life. When the world sees that we are good to all people, and do works for all people, especially those of our family, at the very least they are impressed and intrigued. This gives glory and honor to God.
Secondly, Sardis had some who were able to keep themselves clean from the sins of the others in the congregation. More about these sins will be mentioned in the next section. This proves a few interesting points. This proves that being around sinners, yes even those who are hypocritical Christians, doesn’t inherently make you a sinner. You can be around sinners, and even worship with them, without you sinning yourself. Obviously you are not to sin with them, and you are to have good judgment, but it is possible not to sin and be in these types of situations. Jesus ate and talked with sinners. He built relationships with even the worst of sinners. Some might say “well you need to watch out for how it looks.” To some degree that can be a valid point, but think about how God came from glory to flesh in the most sinful of places to have relationships with sinners. Furthermore, this also shows that even if someone in your assembly is being sinful, their sins are on their own shoulders and not the shoulders of the congregation as a whole. Granted, it is possible for most, and maybe even all people in a congregation to be in sin, but look how God handles these types of situations. The righteous will not suffer the spiritual punishment of those who have fallen to the side. – Jesse
Suggested Reading After This Article: A Brief Commentary and Exegesis on Rev. 3:1-6 Part 2