Sardis is in Turkey, and is the modern-day Sart. It was founded in the 8th century BC, and was the former capital of the ancient Kingdom of Lydia, famous for red dyes, wool, and, of course, immorality. They worshiped many pagan gods including Artemis and Kore and the goddesses Cybele and Demeter. It was a natural, seemingly invulnerable citadel that was famous for its great wealth. An “acropolis” was built there (similar to the one in Athens Greece), on Mount Tmolus. It stood 1,500 feet above the valley. A large, wealthy Jewish community was there, too. These people were respected amongst the Gentiles for their commercial prowess. What sets this city off from Thyatira and the others is that there is no indication of persecution there. The early Christians had it good, with no significant problems with the Jews, guilds, or government. They became wealthy and comfortable; because of this, they were set up for complacency. The biggest danger to a person’s faith and the health of a church is complacency, which results in the lack of growth! Wealth, in and of itself, is not wrong or bad; however, it is our prideful thinking that we do not need God but can do life and our church by ourselves and by our own efforts that is a slap in the face of our Lord.
· Holds the seven spirits of God is a title for Christ, referring to His fullness and importance that is beyond measure. The meaning of seven is not numerical but rather denotes completeness. The Holy Spirit attests to this by His various roles as Counselor, Bearer of Wisdom, and Fruit, etc. (Isa. 11:2; Rev. 1:1-8).
· Seven stars. Jewish texts often display angels as stars. In contrast, pagans saw stars as the rulers of their destiny. It is, in fact, God, who is LORD, who is that Ruler (Rev. 1:12-20).
· I know your deeds. Their prosperity was meant to be a blessing and a tool, but they turned it into greed and self-satisfaction.
· A reputation. Sardis and this church had a good reputation that was, perhaps, overrated. Both were sinking from their former glory because they were not constant in their efforts. In the Christian life, it is not about proving ourselves so we can then take it easy; rather, it is our persistent obedience that pleases Him, regardless of the past or the future. We can never take a reputation for granted; it must be fueled with consistency and fervency.
· Being alive meant that at one time, this church was doing well. This implies that the spiritual life is like an organism that must be fed and cared for if it is to grow. Our Christianity must be nurtured or it will wither.
· You are dead meant that spiritual life, faith in Christ, and growth in Him were all absent. If we are not growing, we are dying, or perhaps are already dead.
· Wake up/be watchful meant we must be on guard against sin, temptations, and for anything else that would diminish our character or conquer our church. This is a call to realize what we are doing wrong and to get it right. It is more of a challenge to be pure when everyone else is in sin.
· Deeds complete/perfect before God possibly infers that no Fruit or love was found (Rom. 7:4-6; 1 Cor. 13:1-3; Gal. 5:6, 22-23; Col. 1:3-10; James 3:17).
· Remember indicates that we should never forget who Christ is and what He has done for us! Don’t do life or His church on your own; He wants to be involved as LORD, not consultant or contributor, and He is not to be ignored, either.
· I will come like a thief means “stealth,” as to be surprised when you think you are invulnerable and safe. Sardis was a fortress that many saw as impenetrable, yet it was easily conquered twice by people sneaking in through the water caverns and sewers at night while the men who were guarding the city were drunk. This meaning here does not refer to the image of the End Times as it does in Matthew, 2 Peter, and later on in Revelation. Here, it means to “break in,” as to dig into the clay and brick sides to get inside the home or sneak into the fortress like the Trojan Horse. Here, it is a metaphor, and does not refer to a literal thief who would rob us, but that Christ’s judgment will come if a church refuses to repent. This judgment will not be predicted or expected. It will be a surprise and a shock (Ex. 22:2-3; Matt. 24:42-44; Luke 12:39-40; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 16:1-5)!