Revelation 3:1
And to the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things said he that has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know your works, that you have a name that you live, and are dead.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
III.

(1) Sardis.—The modern Sart—now a mere village of paltry huts—once the capital of the old Lydian monarchy, and associated with the names of Crœsus, Cyrus, and Alexander. It was the great entrepôt of dyed woollen fabrics, the sheep of “many-flocked” Phrygia supplying the raw material. The art of dyeing is said to have been invented here; and many-coloured carpets or mats found in the houses of the wealthy were manufactured here. The metal known as electrum, a kind of bronze, was the produce of Sardis; and in early times gold-dust was found in the sand of the Pactolus, the little stream which passed through the Agora of Sardis, and washed the walls of the Temple of Cybele. It is said that gold and silver coins were first, minted at Sardis, and that resident merchants first became a class there. An earthquake laid it waste in the reign of Tiberius; a pestilence followed, but the city seems to have recovered its prosperity before the date of this epistle. The worship of Cybele was the prevailing one; its rites, like those of Dionysos and Aphrodite, encouraged impurity.

The writer is described in words similar to those in Revelation 1:4, as the one who hath the seven spirits of God, and the seven stars; but there is a difference. There Christ was seen holding the stars in His right hand; here it is said He hath the seven Spirits and also the seven stars. In this language it is difficult to overlook the unhesitating way in which Christ is spoken of as owning or possessing that Holy Spirit who alone can make angels of His Church to shine as stars. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9; Romans 8:11). His promise is, “I will send the Comforter unto you” (John 15:26), as possessing all power in heaven and earth. “He is able,” to use the language of Professor Plumptre, “to bring together the gifts of life, and the ministry for which those gifts are needed. If those who minister are without gifts; it is because they have not asked for them.” This the angel of the Sardian Church had not done; his faith and the faith of the Church around him had sunk into a superficial, though perhaps ostentatious, state. Here, then, lies the appropriateness of the description given of Christ, as the source of life and light to His Church.

A name that thou livest.—It is only needful to mention, and to dismiss the fanciful conjecture, that the name of the angel was Zosimos, or some parallel name, signifying life-bearing or living. It is the reputation for piety possessed by the Church of Sardis which is referred to. Living with the credit of superior piety, it was easy to grow satisfied with the reputation, and to forget to keep open the channels through which grace and life could flow, and to fail to realise that the adoption of habits of life higher than those around them, or those who lived before them, was no guarantee of real spiritual life; for “the real virtues of one age become the spurious ones of the next . . . The belief of the Pharisees, the religious practice of the Pharisees, was an improvement upon the life of the sensual and idolatrous Jews whom the prophets denounced. But those who used both the doctrinal and moral improvements as the fulcrum of a selfish power and earthly rank, were the same men after all as their fathers, only accommodated to a new age” (Mozley). Self-satisfaction, which springs up when a certain reputation has been acquired, is the very road to self-deception. The remedy is progress—forgetting the things behind, lest looking with complacency upon the past, moral and spiritual stagnation should set in, and spiritual death should follow.

Revelation



THE LORD OF THE SPIRITS AND THE STARS


Revelation 3:1.

The titles by which our Lord speaks of Himself in the letters to the seven churches are chosen to correspond with the spiritual condition of the community addressed. The correspondence can usually be observed without difficulty, and in this case is very obvious. The church in Sardis, to which Christ is presented under this aspect as the possessor of ‘the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars,’ had no heresies needing correction. It had not life enough to produce even such morbid secretions. Neither weeds nor flowers grow in winter. There may be a lower depth than the condition of things when people are all thinking, and some of them thinking wrongly, about Christian truth. Better the heresies of Ephesus and Thyatira than the acquiescent deadness of Sardis.

It had no immoralities. The gross corruptions of some in Pergamum had no parallel there. Philadelphia had none, for it kept close to its Lord, and Sardis is rebuked for none, because its evil was deeper and sadder. It was not flagrantly corrupt, it was only - dead.

Of course it had no persecutions. Faithful Smyrna had tribulation unto death, hanging like a thundercloud overhead, and Philadelphia, beloved of the Lord, was drawing near its hour of trial. But Sardis had not life enough to be obnoxious. Why should the world trouble itself about a dead church? It exactly answers the world’s purpose, and is really only a bit of the world under another name.

To such a church comes flaming in upon its stolid indifference this solemn and yet glad vision of the Lord of the ‘seven Spirits of God,’ and of ‘the seven stars.’

I. Let us think of the condition of the church which especially needs this vision.

It is all summed up in that judgment, pronounced by Him who ‘knows its works’: ‘Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.’ No works either good or bad are enumerated, though there were some, which He gathers together in one condemnation, as ‘not perfect before God.’

We are not to take that word ‘dead’ in the fullest sense of which it is capable, as we shall see presently. But let us remember how, when on earth, the Lord, whose deep words on that matter we owe mainly to John, taught that all men were either living, because they had been made alive by Him, or dead - how He said, ‘Except ye eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man, ye have no life in you,’ and how one of the main ideas of John’s whole teaching is, ‘He that hath the Son hath life.’ This remembrance will help us to give the words their true meaning. Death is the condition of those who are separated from Him, and not receiving from Him the better life into their spirits by communion and faith.

Into this condition the church in Sardis had fallen. People and bishop had lost their hold on Him. Their hearts beat with no vigorous love to Him, but only feebly throbbed with a pulsation which even His hand laid on their bosoms could scarcely detect. Their thoughts had no clear apprehension of Him or of His love. Their communion with Him had ceased. Their lives had no radiant beauty of self-sacrifice for Christ’s sake. Their Christianity was dying out.

But this death was not entire, as is seen from the fact that in the next verse ‘ready to die’ is the expression applied to some among them, or perhaps to some lingering works which still survived. They were at the point of death, moribund, with much of their spiritual life extinct, but here and there a spark among the ashes, which His eye saw, and His breath could fan into a flame. Some works still survived, though not ‘perfect,’ shrunken and sickly like the blanched shoots of a plant feebly growing in a dark cellar.

In some animals of low organization you may see muscular movements after life is extinct. So churches and individual Christians may keep on performing Christian work for a time after the true impulse that should produce it has ceased. A train will run for some distance after the steam has been shut off. Institutions last after the life is out of them, for use and wont keeps up a routine of action, though the true motive is dead, and men may go on for long, nominal adherents of a cause to which they are bound by no living conviction. How much of your Christian activity is the manifestation of life, and how much of it is the ghastly twitchings of a corpse under galvanism?

This death was unseen but by the flame-eyed Christ. These people in Sardis had ‘a name to live.’ They had a high reputation among the Asiatic churches for vigorous Christian character. And they themselves, no doubt, would be very much astonished at the sledgehammer blow of this judgment of their state. One can fancy them saying - ‘We dead! Do not we stand high among our brethren, have we not this and the other Christian work among us? Have we not prophesied in Thy name? ‘Yes, and the surest sign of spiritual death is unconsciousness. Paralysis is not felt. Mortification is painless. Frost-bitten limbs are insensitive. They only tingle when life is coming back to them. When a man says I am asleep, he is more than half awake.

One characteristic of their death is that they have forgotten what they were in better and happier times, and therefore need the exhortation, ‘Remember how thou hast received and didst hear.’ They have fallen so far that the height on which they once stood is out of their sight, and they are content to lie on the muddy flat at its base. No stings from conscious decline disturb them. They are too far gone for that. The same round of formal Christian service which marked their decline from their brethren hid it from themselves.

That is a solemn fact worth making very clear to ourselves, that the profoundest spiritual decline may be going on in us, and we be all unconscious of it. Samson wist not that his strength was departed from him,’ and in utter ignorance he tried to perform his old feats, only to find his weakness. So the life of our spirits may have ebbed away, and we know not how much blood we have lost until we try to raise ourselves and sink back fainting. Like some rare essence in a partially closed vessel, put away in some drawer, we go to take it out and find nothing but a faint odour, a rotten cork, and an empty phial. The sure way to lose the precious elixir of a Christian life is to shut it up in our hearts. No life is maintained without food, air, and exercise. We must live on the bread of God which came down from heaven, and breathe the breath of His life-giving Spirit, and use all our power for Him, or else, for all our name to live, and our shrunken, feeble imitations of the motions of life, the eyes which are as a flame of fire will see the sad reality, and the lips into which grace is poured will have to speak over us the one grim word - dead.



II. Notice now the thought of Christ presented to such a church. ‘He that hath the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.’


The greater part of the attributes with which our Lord speaks of Himself in the beginnings of the seven letters to the churches are drawn from the features of the majestic vision of the Christ in the first chapter of this book. But nothing there corresponds to the first clause of this description, and so far this designation is singular. There are, however, three other places in the Apocalypse which throw much light on it, and to these we may turn for a moment. In the apostolic salutation at the beginning of the book {i. 4} John in yokes mercy and grace on the Asiatic churches from the Eternal Father, ‘and from the seven Spirits which are before the throne,’ and from Christ, the faithful witness. In the grand vision of heavenly realities {ch. iv.} the seer beholds burning before the throne seven lamps of fire, ‘which are the seven Spirits of God,’ and when, in the later portion of the same, he beholds the conquering Lamb, who looses the seals of the book of the world’s history, he sees Him having ‘seven eyes which are the seven Spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth,’ an echo of old words of the same prophet who had been John’s precursor in the symbolic use of the ‘candlestick,’ as representing the Church, and who speaks of ‘the seven eyes of the Lord which run to and fro throughout the whole earth’ {Zechariah 4:10}.

Clearly in all these passages we have the same idea presented of the Holy Spirit of God in the completeness and manifoldness of its sevenfold energies, conceived of as possessed and bestowed by the Lamb of God, the Lord of all the churches. The use of the plural and the number seven is remarkable, but quite explicable, on the ground of the sacred number expressing perfection, and not inconsistent with personal unity, underlying the variety of manifestations. The personality of the Spirit is sufficiently set forth by that refrain in each epistle, ‘Let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.’ The divinity of the Spirit is plainly involved in the triple benediction at the beginning of the letter, and by the sacred place in which there the Spirit is invoked, midmost between the Father and the Son. The seven lamps before the throne speak of the flaming perfection of that Spirit of burning conceived of as immanent in the Divine nature. The seven eyes sent forth into all the earth speak of the perfectness of the energies of that same Spirit, conceived of as flashing and gleaming through all the world. And the great words of our text agree with that vision of these seven as being the eyes of the Lamb slain, in telling us that that fiery Spirit is poured out on men by the Lord, who had to die before He could cast fire on earth.

This is the thought which a dead or decaying church needs most. There is a Spirit which gives life, and Christ is the Lord of that Spirit. The whole fullness of the Divine energies is gathered in the Holy Spirit, and this is His chiefest work - to breathe into our deadness the breath of life. Many other blessed offices are His, and many other names belong to Him. He is ‘the Spirit of adoption,’ He is ‘the Spirit of Supplication,’ He is ‘the Spirit of Holiness,’ He is ‘the Spirit of Wisdom,’ He is ‘the Spirit of Power and of Love and of a sound mind,’ He is ‘the Spirit of Counsel and Might’; but highest of all is the name which expresses His mightiest work, the Spirit of Life.’ The flaming lamps tell of His flashing brightness; the seven eyes of His watchful Omniscience and other symbols witness the various sides of His gracious activity on men’s hearts. The anointing oil was consecrated from gold to express His work of causing men’s whole powers to move sweetly and without friction in the service of God, and of feeding the flame of devotion in the heart. The ‘water’ spoke of cleansing efficacy, as ‘fire’ of melting, transforming, purifying power. But the ‘rushing mighty wind,’ blowing where it listeth, unsustained, and free, visible only in its effects, and yet heard by every ear that is not deaf, sometimes soft and low, as the respiration of a sleeping child, sometimes loud and strong as the storm, is His best emblem. The very name ‘the Spirit’ emphasizes that aspect of His work in which He is conceived of as the source of life. This is the thought of His working which comes with most glad yet solemn meaning to Christian people who feel how low their life has sunk. This is the true antidote to the deadness, so real and common among all communions now, however it is skimmed over and hidden by a kind of film of activity.

Christ has this sevenfold Spirit. That means first that the same peaceful dove which floated down from the open heavens on His meek head, just raised from the baptismal stream, fills now and for ever His whole humanity with its perfect energies. ‘God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.’ How marvellous that there is a manhood to which the whole fullness of the Spirit of God can be imparted, an ‘earthen vessel,’ capacious enough to hold this ‘treasure’! How marvellous that there is a Son of man, who is likewise Son of God, and has the Spirit, not only for His own human perfecting, but to shed it forth on all who love Him! It is the slain Lamb, who has the seven Spirits of God. That is to say, it was impossible that the fullness of spiritual influence could be poured out quickening on men until Christ had died, and by His death He has become the dispenser to the world of the principle of life. In His hands is the gift. He is the Lord of the Spirit, ascended up to give to men according to the measure of their capacity, of that Spirit which He has received, until we all come to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. How unlike the relation of other teachers to their disciples! Their spirit is the very thing they cannot give. They can impart teaching, they can give a method and principles, and a certain direction to the mind. They can train imitators. But they are like Elijah, knowing not if their spirit will rest on their successors, and sure that, if it do, it has not been their gift. The departing prophet had to say to the petition for an elder son’s legacy of his spirit, ‘Thou hast asked a hard thing,’ but Christ ascending let that gift fall from His uplifted hands of blessing, and the dove that abode on Him fluttered downwards from the hiding cloud, to rest on the Apostles’ heads, as they steadfastly gazed up into heaven. Therefore they went back to Jerusalem with joy, even before the fuller gift of Pentecost.

Pentecost was but a transitory sign of a perpetual gift. The rushing wind died into calm, and the flickering tongues of fire had faded before the spectators reached the place. Nor did the miracle of utterance last either. But whilst all that is past, the substance remains. The fire of Pentecost has not died down into chilly embers, nor have the ‘rivers of living water, promised by the lips of incarnate truth, been swallowed up in the sands or failed at their source. He is perpetually bestowing the Spirit of God upon His Church. We are only too apt to forget the present activity of our ascended Lord. We think of His mighty work as ‘finished’ on the Cross, and do not conceive clearly and strongly enough His continuous work which is being done, now and ever, on the throne. That work is not only His priestly intercession and representation of us in heaven, but is also His working on earth in the bestowal on all His followers of that Divine Spirit to be the life of their lives and the fountain of all their holiness, wisdom, strength, and joy. For ever is He near us, ready to quicken and to bless. He will breathe in silent ways grace and power into us, and when life if low, He will pour a fuller tide into our veins. He knows all our deadness and He can cure it all. He is Himself the life, and He is the Lord and giver of life, because the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth are the seven eyes of the slain Lamb.

One great channel through which spiritual life is imparted to a dying church is suggested by the other part of the description of our Lord here as having the seven stars.’ The ‘stars’ are the ‘angels of the churches,’ by whom we are probably to understand their bishops and pastors. If so, then we have a striking thought, symbolized by the juxtaposition. Christ, as it were, holds in the one hand the empty vessels, and in the other the brimming cup, from which He will pour out the supply for their emptiness.

The lesson taught us is, that in a dead church the teachers mostly partake of the deadness, and are responsible for it. But, further, we learn that Christ’s way of reviving a decaying and all but effete church is of tenest by filling single men full of His Spirit, and then sending them out to kindle a soul under the ribs of death. So Luther brought back life to the churches in his day. So the Wesleys brought about the great evangelical revival of last century. So let us pray that it may be again in our day when another century is drawing near its end, and the love of many has grown cold.

If we regard the ‘angels’ as being but ideal representatives of the churches themselves, then we may gather from the juxtaposition of the two clauses a lesson which is ever true. In Christ’s one hand is the perfect supply for all our need, wisdom for our blindness, might to clothe our weakness, righteousness for our sin, life to flood our drooping souls. In Christ’s other hand He holds us all, and surely He will not leave us empty while we are within His arm’s length of such fullness. Let us look to Him alone for all we need, and rejoice to know that we, held in His grasp, are near His heart, the homo of infinite love, and near His hand, the source of infinite supply of strength and grace.



III. Consider, now, the practical uses of these thoughts.


That vision should shame us into penitent consciousness of our own deadness. When we contrast the little life we possess with the abundance waiting to be given, like the poor scanty supply in some choked millstream compared with the full-flashing store in the brimming river, we may well be stricken with shame. So much offered and so little possessed; such fiery energy of love possible, and poor tepid feeling, actual! Such a mighty breath of God blowing all about us, and we lying as if enchanted and becalmed, with scarce wind enough to keep our idle sails from flapping. There in Jesus Christ is the measure of what we might possess and the pattern of what we should possess - does it not bow us in penitence, because of what we do possess?

But while ashamed and penitent, we should be kept by that vision from despondent thoughts, as if the future could never be different from the past. It is not good to think too much of our failure and emptiness, lest penitence darken into despair, and shame cut the sinews of our souls and unfit them for all brave endeavour. Let us think of Christ’s fullness and hope, as well as repent.

Let it stir us too to seek for the reason why we have not more of Christ’s life. What is the film which prevents the light from reaching our eyes? I remember once seeing by a roadside a stone trough for cattle to drink from empty, because the pipe from which it was fed was stopped by a great plug of ice. That is the reason why many of our hearts are so empty of Christ’s Spirit. We have plugged the channel with a mass of ice. Close communion with Jesus Christ is the only means of possessing His Spirit. With penitence let us go back to Him, and let us hold fast by His hand. If we listen to Him, trust Him, keep our minds and hearts attent on Him, He will breathe on us as of old, and as we hear Him say, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost,’ a diviner life will pass into our veins, and the law of the Spirit of life in Christ will make us free from the law of sin and death. Revelation 3:1. To the angel of the church in Sardis write — This city, “once the renowned capital of Crœsus and the rich Lydian kings, is now no longer worthy of the name of a city. It lies about thirty-three miles to the south of Thyatira, and is called by the Turks, Sart, or Sard, with little variation from the original name. It is a most sad spectacle; nor can one forbear weeping over the ruins of so great a city: for now it is no more than an ignoble village, with low and wretched cottages of clay; nor hath it any other inhabitants besides shepherds and herdsmen, who feed their flocks and cattle in the neighbouring plains. Yet the great extent and grandeur of the ruins abundantly show how large and splendid a city it was formerly. The Turks themselves have only one mosque, a beautiful one indeed, perverted to that use from a Christian church. Very few Christians are here to be found; and they, with great patience, sustain a miserable servitude; and, what is far more miserable, are without a church, without a priest among them. Such is the deplorable state of this once most glorious city; but her works were not found perfect; that is, they were found blameable before God; she was dead even while she lived; and she is punished accordingly.” — Bishop Newton. Mr. Lindsay, however, informs us, that there is a small church establishment on the plains of Sardis, where, about five years ago, the few Christians who dwell around the modern Sart, and who had been in the habit of meeting at each other’s houses for the exercise of religion, built a church within view of ancient Sardis; and that there they maintain a priest. In consequence of this, the place has gradually risen into a little village, now called Tartarkeury, and thither the few Christians of Sart, who amount to seven, and those in its immediate vicinity, resort for public worship, and form together a congregation of about forty. There appears then still a remnant, a few names even in Sardis, which have been preserved. “I cannot repeat,” says he, “the expressions of gratitude with which they received a copy of the New Testament in a language with which they were familiar. Several crowded about the priest to hear it on the spot; and I left them thus engaged.”

These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God — That is, the Holy Spirit, from whom alone all spiritual gifts and graces proceed; or he who presides over and orders the various dispensations of the Spirit, and produces thereby such wonderful effects; and the seven stars — Which represent the ministers of the churches, all whose motions he continues to govern and direct, according to his all-wise and gracious pleasure. I know thy works — The state thou art in, and thy conduct: and that thou dost not answer that character which thou generally maintainest in the neighbouring churches for true religion and virtue; that thou hast a name that thou livest — A fair reputation; the character of being truly alive unto God; of possessing spiritual life here, and being in the way to eternal life hereafter; but art dead — Art really destitute of that life, and in the way to the second death.3:1-6. The Lord Jesus is He that hath the Holy Spirit with all his powers, graces, and operations. Hypocrisy, and lamentable decay in religion, are sins charged upon Sardis, by One who knew that church well, and all her works. Outward things appeared well to men, but there was only the form of godliness, not the power; a name to live, not a principle of life. There was great deadness in their souls, and in their services; numbers were wholly hypocrites, others were in a disordered and lifeless state. Our Lord called upon them to be watchful against their enemies, and to be active and earnest in their duties; and to endeavour, in dependence on the grace of the Holy Spirit, to revive and strengthen the faith and spiritual affections of those yet alive to God, though in a declining state. Whenever we are off our watch, we lose ground. Thy works are hollow and empty; prayers are not filled up with holy desires, alms-deeds not filled up with true charity, sabbaths not filled up with suitable devotion of soul to God. There are not inward affections suitable to outward acts and expressions; when the spirit is wanting, the form cannot long remain. In seeking a revival in our own souls, or the souls of others, it is needful to compare what we profess with the manner in which we go on, that we may be humbled and quickened to hold fast that which remains. Christ enforces his counsel with a dreadful threatening if it should be despised. Yet our blessed Lord does not leave this sinful people without some encouragement. He makes honourable mention of the faithful remnant in Sardis, he makes a gracious promise to them. He that overcometh shall be clothed in white raiment; the purity of grace shall be rewarded with the perfect purity of glory. Christ has his book of life, a register of all who shall inherit eternal life; the book of remembrance of all who live to God, and keep up the life and power of godliness in evil times. Christ will bring forward this book of life, and show the names of the faithful, before God, and all the angels, at the great day.The Epistle to the Church at Sardis

The contents of the epistle to the church at Sardis Revelation 3:1-6 are:

(1) The usual salutation to the angel of the church, Revelation 3:1.

(2) the usual reference to the attributes of the Saviour - those referred to here being that he had the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars, Revelation 3:1.

(3) the assurance that he knew their works, Revelation 3:1.

(4) the statement of the uniqueness of the church, or what he saw in it - that it had a name to live and was dead, Revelation 3:1.

(5) a solemn direction to the members of the church, arising from their character and circumstances, to be watchful, and to strengthen the things which remained, but which were ready to die; to remember what they had received, and to hold fast what had been communicated to them, and to repent of all their sins, Revelation 3:2-3.

(6) a threat that if they did not do this, he would come suddenly upon them, at an hour which they could not anticipate, Revelation 3:3.

(7) a commendation of the church as far as it could be done, for there were still a few among them who had not defiled their garments, and a promise that they should walk before him in white, Revelation 3:4.

(8) a promise, as usual, to him that should be victorious. The promise here is, that he should walk before him in white; that his name should not be blotted out of the book of life; that he should be acknowledged before the Father, and before the angels, Revelation 3:5.

(9) the usual call on all persons to hear what the Spirit said to the churches.

Sardis was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia, one of the provinces of Asia Minor, and was situated at the foot of Mount Tmolus, in a fine plain watered by the river Pactolus, famous for its golden sands. It was the capital where the celebrated Croesus, proverbial for his wealth, reigned. It was taken by Cyrus (548 bc), when Croesus was king, and was at that time one of the most splendid and opulent cities of the East. It subsequently passed into the hands of the Romans, and under them sank rapidly in wealth and importance. In the time of Tiberius it was destroyed by an earthquake, but was rebuilt by order of the emperor. The inhabitants of Sardis bore an ill repute among the ancients for their voluptuous modes of life. Perhaps there may be an allusion to this fact in the words which are used in the address to the church there: "Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments."

Successive earthquakes, and the ravages of the Saracens and the Turks, have reduced this once-celebrated city to a heap of ruins, though exhibiting still many remains of former splendor. The name of the village which now occupies the place of this ancient capital is Sart. It is a miserable village, comprising only a few wretched cottages, occupied by Turks and Greeks. There are ruins of the theater, the stadium, and of some ancient churches. The most remarkable of the ruins are two pillars supposed to have belonged to the temple of Cybele; and if so, they are among the most ancient in the world, the temple of Cybele having been built only three hundred years after that of Solomon. The Acropolis serves well to define the site of the city. Several travelers have recently visited the remains of Sardis, and its appearance will be indicated by a few extracts from their writings. Arundell, in his "Discoveries in Asia Minor," says: "If I were asked what impresses the mind most strongly in beholding Sardis, I should say its indescribable solitude, like the darkness of Egypt - darkness that could be felt. So the deep solitude of the spot, once the 'lady of kingdoms,' produces a corresponding feeling of desolate abandonment in the mind, which can never be forgotten."

John Hartley, in regard to these ruins, remarks: "The ruins are, with one exception, more entirely gone to decay than those of most of the ancient cities which we have visited. No Christians reside on the spot: two Greeks only work in a mill here, and a few wretched Turkish huts are scattered among the ruins. We saw the churches of John and the Virgin, the theater, and the building styled the Palace of Croesus; but the most striking object at Sardis is the temple of Cybele. I was filled with wonder and awe at beholding the two stupendous columns of this edifice, which are still remaining: they are silent but impressive witnesses of the power and splendor of antiquity."

continued...

CHAPTER 3

Re 3:1-22. The Epistles to Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.

1. Sardis—the ancient capital of Lydia, the kingdom of wealthy Croesus, on the river Pactolus. The address to this Church is full of rebuke. It does not seem to have been in vain; for Melito, bishop of Sardis in the second century, was eminent for piety and learning. He visited Palestine to assure himself and his flock as to the Old Testament canon and wrote an epistle on the subject [Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, 4.26]; he also wrote a commentary on the Apocalypse [Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 4.26; Jerome, On Illustrious Men, 24].

he that hath the seven Spirits of God—that is, He who hath all the fulness of the Spirit (Re 1:4; 4:5; 5:6, with which compare Zec 3:9; 4:10, proving His Godhead). This attribute implies His infinite power by the Spirit to convict of sin and of a hollow profession.

and the seven stars—(Re 1:16, 20). His having the seven stars, or presiding ministers, flows, as a consequence, from His having the seven Spirits, or the fulness of the Holy Spirit. The human ministry is the fruit of Christ's sending down the gifts of the Spirit. Stars imply brilliancy and glory; the fulness of the Spirit, and the fulness of brilliant light in Him, form a designed contrast to the formality which He reproves.

name … livest … dead—(1Ti 5:6; 2Ti 3:5; Tit 1:16; compare Eph 2:1, 5; 5:14). "A name," that is, a reputation. Sardis was famed among the churches for spiritual vitality; yet the Heart-searcher, who seeth not as man seeth, pronounces her dead; how great searchings of heart should her case create among even the best of us! Laodicea deceived herself as to her true state (Re 3:17), but it is not written that she had a high name among the other churches, as Sardis had.Revelation 2:1-6 What John was commanded to write in commendation or

reproof to the angels of the churches of Sardis,

Revelation 2:7-13 Philadelphia,

Revelation 2:14-22 and Laodicea.

The angel of the church: See Poole on "Revelation 2:12".

Write: See Poole on "Revelation 1:11".

The seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars: See Poole on "Revelation 1:3", See Poole on "Revelation 1:20".

I know thy works: this phrase here (as appears from what follows) can signify nothing but Christ’s comprehension of the works of this church in his understanding, not his approbation of them.

That thou hast a name that thou livest; the ministry of this church had a name, that is, were reported as famous for their faith, diligence, and holiness; but their faith, without suitable works, was dead, and they were no better than hypocrites.

And art dead; spiritually dead.

And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write,.... Of the city of Sardis See Gill on Revelation 1:11 when, and by whom this church was founded, and who was the present angel or pastor of it, is not now to be certainly known; however, here was a church in the "second" century, of which Melito was then pastor; and he is thought by some to be the angel here intended; this man wrote upon the book of the Revelation, and an apology for the Christians, sent to the Emperor Antoninus Verus, in whose time he lived (c); and in the "third" century a church remained in this place; and also in the "fourth", as appears from the council of Nice, which makes mention of it; and likewise in the "fifth", as is evident from the acts of the synod at Chalcedon, in which age it was the metropolitan church of the Lydians; and in the "sixth" century there was a bishop of this church in the fifth synod at Constantinople; and in the "seventh" century, Marinus bishop of Sardis assisted at the sixth synod in the same place; and in the "eighth" century, Euthymius bishop of it was present in the Nicene synod; and even in the "ninth" century mention is made of an archbishop of Sardis (d): but now there are but very few Christians to be found here, and who have not a place to worship in, nor any to minister to them (e). This church represents the state of the church from the time of the Reformation by Luther and others, until a more glorious state of the church appears, or until the spiritual reign of Christ in the Philadelphian period; under the Sardian church state we now are: (this was published in 1747, Ed.) that this church is an emblem of the reformed churches from Popery, is evident not only from its following the Thyatirian state, which expresses the darkness of Popery, and the depths of Satan in it; but from its being clear of Balaam, and those that held his doctrine; and from the Nicolaitans and their tenets, and from Jezebel, and those that committed adultery with her; things which the two former churches are charged with; but from these the present church reformed. This city of Sardis was once a very flourishing and opulent city; it was the metropolis of Lydia, and the royal seat of the rich King Croesus, though now a very poor and mean village; and may denote the magnificence and splendour of this church state, at least in name and figure, it has appeared in, in the world; though now in a very low and mean condition, and may be worse before the spiritual reign of Christ begins in the next period: there may be some allusion in the name of this church to the precious stone "sarda", which, Pliny says (f), was found about Sardis, and had its name from hence; the same with the Sardian stone in Revelation 4:2. This stone, naturalists say (g), drives away fear, gives boldness, cheerfulness, and sharpness of wit, and frees from witchcrafts and sorceries; which may be expressive of the boldness and courage of the first reformers; of the cheerfulness, joy, and pleasure, which appeared in their countenances, and which they spread in others by preaching the doctrines of the Gospel; and of those excellent gifts and talents both of nature, learning, and grace, by which they were fitted for their service; and of their being a means of delivering men from the witchcrafts of Jezebel, and the sorceries of the whore of Rome: and perhaps some allusion may be in this name, as is thought by Cocceius, to the Hebrew word "sarid", which signifies a "remnant", since in this church state there was a remnant according to the election of grace, a few names, whose garments were undefiled; or to the word "sered", which signifies a carpenter's rule or line; since the first reformers were endeavouring to bring every doctrine and practice to the rule and line of God's word:

these things saith he that hath the seven spirits of God; the fulness and perfection of the gifts and graces of the Spirit of God, as in Revelation 1:4, which Christ, as Mediator, has without measure, and are at his dispose, and which he, having received for men, gives unto them; and at the time of the Reformation bestowed them on many eminent servants of his in a very plenteous manner; for which reason he assumes this character in writing to this church:

and the seven stars; the ministers of the Gospel; see Gill on Revelation 1:16, Revelation 2:1; these were filled by Christ at this time with evangelical light and knowledge; and were sent, and held forth by him as lights in the world; and were instruments in his hand for great good; and were wonderfully held, kept, and preserved by him, notwithstanding the greatness of their work, their weakness in themselves, and the power, rage, and fury of the antichristian party; Luther is a remarkable instance of this: Christ's making use of the same title here as in the epistle to the church at Ephesus, which represents the apostolic church, may show that this church state bore some degree of likeness to that, and that it was a sort of renewing of it:

I know thy works; good works chiefly; the nature and imperfection of them; and also bad works: that

thou hast a name that thou livest: the reformed churches have had a name for spiritual living, by faith on Christ's righteousness only for justification, that article being the great article of the Reformation: there was in them an appearance of liveliness, by their zeal for Gospel doctrine and worship, and a form of living according to godliness; they were esteemed, were celebrated, and famous for these things, especially for living by faith on Christ's righteousness:

and art dead; or "but art dead"; for, the most part, or greater part of the members of these churches, are dead in trespasses and sins; and as for the rest, they are very dead and lifeless in their frames, in the exercise of grace, and in the discharge of duties; and under great spiritual declensions and decays, just as it were ready to die; and but few really alive in a spiritual sense, and especially lively, or in the lively exercise of grace, and fervent discharge of duty; yea, dead as to those things in which they had a name to live: and this seems to be our case now, who, it is to be hoped, are at, or towards the close of this period,

(c) Euseb. Eccl. Hist. l. 4. c. 13. 26. & l. 5. c. 24. (d) Hist. Eccl. Magdeburg. cent. 3. c. 2. p. 3. cent. 4. c. 2. p. 3. cent. 5. c. 2. p. 3. c. 7. p. 418. cent. 6. c. 2. p. 4. cent. 7. c. 2. p. 3. c. 10. p. 254. cent. 8. c. 2. p. 4. cent. 9. c. 3. p. 3.((e) Smith. Notitia, p. 138. (f) Nat. Hist. l. 37. c. 7. Albert. Magn. de Reb. Metall. l. 2. c. 17. (g) Ruaeus de Gemmis, l. 2. c. 6. Albert. Magn. de Rebus Metall. l. 2. c. 17. Schroder. Pharmacopoeia, l. 3. c. 5. p. 18.

And unto the angel of the church in {a} Sardis {1} write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a {b} name that thou livest, and art dead.

(a) Sardis is the name of a most flourishing and famous city, where the kings of Lydia kept their courts.

(1) The fifth passage is to the pastors of Sardis. The introduction is taken from Re 1:4,16.

(b) You are said to live, but are dead indeed.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Revelation 3:1. ὁ ἔχων τά ἐπτὰ πνεύματα τοῦ θεοῦ. This designation of the Lord is new rather as to form than as to sense; for Christ would not be everywhere Lord of the Church in the sense declared by the following predicate, and the entire description recurring in the commencement of the epistles (Revelation 1:12 sqq.), if he were not the one “having the seven spirits of God.”[1306] Christ, as the Son of God, has[1307] the Spirit of God, as of the Father; thus Christ works and speaks through the Spirit in and to the churches,[1308] and thus both designations of the Lord, Ὁ ἜΧΩΝ ΤᾺ ἘΠΤᾺ ΠΝΕΥΜ. Τ. Θ. and (Ὁ ἜΧΩΝ) ΤΟῪς ἘΠΤᾺ ἈΣΤΈΡΑς,[1309] appear in their inner connection.[1310] But, just because the ἜΧΕΙΝ Τ. Έ. ΠΝ. Τ. Θ. applies to Christ in his relation to his Church, not as something particular, but as something general, and as expressing a principle, the declaration Ὁ ἜΧΟΝ, Κ.Τ.Λ., cannot be referred like, e.g., Ὁ ἜΧ. Τ. ὈΦΘΑΛΜΌΥς, Κ.Τ.Λ. (Revelation 2:18), etc., in the beginning of the epistles, to any special manifestation of the Lord; neither to his omniscience, according to which he tries the hearts and reins, and also judges aright what is hidden;[1311] nor to his unlimited power to punish and reward.[1312] The Lord designates himself, in general, as the one from whom the spiritual life-forces of the Church proceed,[1313] and who thus continually rules in his churches,[1314] sending forth the seven spirits as his Spirit, and speaking, reproving, warning, consoling, and promising through the same. In a like general way, the relation of Christ to the churches (Revelation 2:1, Revelation 3:14) is made prominent; yea, even the more special features in the other titles to the epistles, with their more precise references to the special contents of the epistles, have, at the same time, an entirely general significance, and make known the specific position of the Lord with respect to his churches in general. Hence it is an arbitrary assumption, when Ebrard lays emphasis upon the fact that Christ, “in the first part of his missive, does not appeal to that point in his manifestation[1315] which afterwards[1316] is established with special reference to Sardis,[1317] viz., to the white robe; but to his general relation to all the seven churches.” There is, therefore, no foundation whatever for the explanation of this “remarkable” circumstance, by the fact that the epistle to the church at Sardis has, in addition to its historical, a special “prophetical sense;” and, as the first of the epistles referring to the “synchronistic” condition of the church, it symbolizes that “among the ecclesiastical bodies which arose in consequence of the Reformation,” in which “there was a possession and boast of pure doctrine, while there was such an over-estimate of doctrine and the objective institution of the Church, that, on that account, the continual reformation of the life was neglected.”[1318]

[1306] Cf. Revelation 1:4.

[1307] Cf. Revelation 5:6.

[1308] Cf., e.g., Revelation 2:7; Revelation 2:11; Revelation 2:17, etc., with the introductions to the epistles.

[1309] Cf. Revelation 1:16; Revelation 1:20.

[1310] Cf. also Bengel, Ewald, Hengstenb., Ebrard.

[1311] Vitr., Züll., De Wette.

[1312] Hengstenb.

[1313] Beng.

[1314] Ebrard.

[1315] Revelation 1:13 sqq.

[1316] Revelation 3:4 sq.

[1317] This is not even altogether correct; the “white robes,” Revelation 3:4 sqq., do not have a special relation to the Lord’s garment, Revelation 1:13.

[1318] p. 572.

Upon οἶδα depends, first of all, the accus. σου τὰ ἔργα, then the clause ὅτι ὄν. ἔχ., κ.τ.λ., before which a καὶ dare not be inserted.[1319] The inner relation of the two expressions placed alongside of one another, without an express combination, is that the Lord, just because of his knowledge of the imperfection of the works of the church (Revelation 3:2), knows that the same, although it has the name that it lives, is nevertheless, in truth, dead. The expression ὀνομα ἔχεις refers neither to the individual name of the bishop, as Zosimus, Vitalis, etc.,[1320] nor to the name of his office;[1321] but designates the reputation and esteem of the church,[1322] yet in its opposition to actual truth, which is then expressly made prominent.[1323] The “life,” if it were actually present, and then, of necessity, would efficaciously manifest itself, would be “to live according to Christ;”[1324] but the judgment has the force: νεκρὸς εἷ; i.e., not “nigh to death,”[1325] but instead of the indeed seeming, yet deficient, life, death is there. This, of course, is to be understood, not unconditionally, but as, according to what follows already in Revelation 3:2, where the call to watch sounds forth, the being dead is represented as a sleep,[1326] it is to be limited according to the spiritual meaning of the expressions ζῇς and νεκρὸς ἐι. Cf. Jam 2:17.

[1319] De Wette: “And that thou hast the name.” Cf. Revelation 3:15.

[1320] C. a Lap., Beng.

[1321] Hengstenb.

[1322] N. de Lyra, Zegar, Areth., Ewald, etc.

[1323] De Wette, Ebrard. Cf. Herodot., vii., p. 485: ἡ στρατηλασία

όνομα μὲν εἶχε, ὡς ὑπʼ Ἀθήνας ἐλαύνει, κατίετο δὲ ἐς πᾶσαν τὴν Ἐλλάδα (“The expedition had a name, as though directed against Athens, while it was really put in motion against all Greece”).

[1324] Grot.

[1325] Eichh.

[1326] Cf. Ephesians 5:14.

Revelation 3:1-6. The epistle to the church at Sardis.

Sardis, the ancient capital of the kings of Lydia, of whom Crœsus was the last, in a rich plain irrigated by the auriferous Pactolus, bounded on the south by Mount Tmolus, lying about thirteen hours south of Thyatira, and three days’ journey east of Ephesus, was distinguished for its wealth and luxury. Under Tiberius, Sardis, with twelve other cities, suffered severely from an earthquake, and was restored by the assistance of the emperor.[1300] In the history of the Christian Church, it does not again appear until the middle of the second century, and then as the residence of the Bishop Melito.[1301] The present Sardis is a paltry village.

[1300] Tacitus, Ann., ii. 47.

[1301] Eusebius, H. E., iv. 13, 26; v. 24.

The church at Sardis is severely reproved; yet it is rather intimated than expressly said as to wherein its wrong consisted. We are not to think of a proper, i.e., intentional hypocrisy,[1302] but of a mode of life which did not agree with the confession firmly maintained externally.[1303] Its members had a dead[1304] faith; they faltered in their faith, and lacked the works, and the holy, pure life, which proceed from the living power of the true faith.[1305]

The supposition of Ewald, that their heathenish life protected the Christians at Sardis from being annoyed by the heathen, and, that, for this reason, nothing is said in the epistle concerning ΘΛῖΨΙς and ὙΠΟΜΟΝΉ, is only reconciled with the text with great difficulty. At all events, the church had enough Christian appearance (Revelation 3:1) to restrain the friendship of the heathen. But whether it had actually experienced no form of ΘΛῖΨΙς, even not from the Jews, and how this perhaps occurred, is not perceptible.

[1302] Vitr.

[1303] Cf. Ebrard.

[1304] Revelation 3:1-2.

[1305] Cf. Revelation 3:2-4.Revelation 3:1-6. The message to Sardis. The title of the speaker (drawn from Revelation 1:4; Revelation 1:16; Revelation 1:20), as general as in the similar letter to Ephesus, has no special bearing on the subsequent address, unless an antithesis be implied between the plenitude of the divine spirit and the deadness of a church which had the name or credit of being “alive”. The sweeping verdict of Revelation 3:1 upon the formalism of the local church—which had lapsed from its pristine vitality, just as the township of S. had by this time declined from its old historical prestige—is modified by the recognition of better elements not yet too far gone in decay to be recovered (2) and of a goodly nucleus of members. The metaphor is paralleled by a Jewish estimate of orthodoxy (Kidd. 71 b) which dubbed Mesene as “dead,” Media as “ill,” Elymais as “in extremis,” and the strict inhabitants of the Ghetto between the Tigris and the Euphrates as “healthy”.The Church in Sardis. Chap. Revelation 3:1-61. that hath the seven Spirits of God] See the last note on Revelation 1:4. Though “the Seven Spirits” were mentioned there, we have not yet heard of them as specially belonging to Christ: but this we End in Revelation 3:6.

and the seven stars] Cf. Revelation 2:1. We find the “Spirits” and the “stars,” i.e. Angels, mentioned coordinately, a further argument against identifying the Spirits with Angels, even angels other than these. These attributes of Christ are mentioned, because He speaks as Judge of the Churches: cf. 1 Corinthians 2:15 for the conception of judgement as the Spirit’s work.Verses 1-6. - The epistle to the Church at Sardis. This Church is one of the two which receives unmixed reproof. Smyrna and Philadelphia receive no blame; Sardis and Laodicea receive no praise. Sardis lies almost due south of Thyatira, on the road to Philadelphia, between the river Hermus and Mount Tmolus. It had been in turn Lydian, Persian, Greek, and Roman, and, like its last Lydian king, Croesus, had been celebrated for its wealth. The auriferous stream Pactolus, in summer almost dry, flowed through its marketplace; but its chief source of wealth was its trade. In A.D. "twelve famous cities of Asia fell by an earthquake in the night... The calamity fell most heavily on the people of Sardis, and it attracted to them the largest share of sympathy. The emperor [Tiberius] promised ten million sesterces (£85,000), and remitted for five years all they paid to the exchequer" (Tac., 'Ann.,' 2:47). A little later Sardis was one of the cities of Asia which claimed the honour of erecting a temple in honour of Tiberius, but the preference was given to Smyrna ('Ann.,' 4:55, 56). Of the inscriptions which have been,discovered at Sardis, nearly all are of the Roman period. Cybele, or Cybebe, was the chief divinity of Sardis; but no reference to this nor to any of the special features of the city can be traced in the epistle. In the second century, Melito, Bishop of Sardis, held a very prominent place among Asiatic Christians, both in personal influence and in literary work. Among his numerous writings was one on the Apocalypse of St. John. The prosporous and luxurious capital of Lydia is now represented by a few huts and a collection of ruins buried deep in rubbish. It still retains its ancient name in the form Sart. The Church in Sardis has no Nicolaitans, no Balaam, no Jezebel. But there is worse evil than the presence of what is morally and doctrinally corrupt. The numbness of spiritual torpor and death is more hopeless than unwise toleration. The Church in Sardis, scarcely out of its infancy, has already the signs of an effete and moribund faith; and it is possible that this deadness was a result of the absence of internal enemies. Verse 1. - He that hath the seven Spirits of God (see notes on Revelation 1:4, 16, 20; but observe that this designation of Christ does not occur in the opening vision). In Revelation 5:6 the Lamb is seen "having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God." The seven Spirits being the Holy Spirit in his sevenfold activity, it is manifest (as Trench observes) that this passage is of importance in reference to the doctrine of the double procession. The Son hath the Spirit, not as One who receives it from the Father, but as One who can impart it to men. As man he received it; as God he gives it. And a Church sunk in spiritual deadness specially needs such a gift. Hence the repetition about having the seven stars, which appears also in the address to the Church in Ephesus (Revelation 2:1). Note, however, that here we have ἔχων for κράτῶν, which would not have been appropriate to express the Son's possession of the Spirit. It is he who holds in his hand the angels of the Church that also has the Spirit wherewith to quicken them. Those that are alive owe their life and growth to him. Those that are dying or dead may be restored to life by him. Thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead. This, again, is thoroughly in the style of the Fourth Gospel. St. John frequently states some gracious fact, and in immediate sequence gives the very opposite of what might have been expected to result from it. "Thou hast a reputation for life, and (instead of being full of vigour and growth) thou art a corpse." This has been called "the tragic tone" in St. John (comp. John 1:5, 10, 11; John 3:11, 19, 32; John 5:39, 40; John 6:36, 43, etc.). In all these cases the contrast is introduced by a simple καί, which may be rendered "and yet;" but the simple "and" is more forcible. Beware of the unworthy literalism which suggests that the Bishop of Sardis bore a name which implied life, e.g. Zosimus, or Vitalis. As already stated (notes on Revelation 1:20), it is improbable that "the angel" means the bishop. And in any case "name" is here used in the common sense of character or reputation. Comp. Herod., 7:138, where the historian says that Xerxes' expedition had the name (οὔνομα εῖχε) of being directed against Athens, but was really a menace to the whole of Greece. We have very similar uses of ὄνομα in Mark 9:41 and 1 Peter 4:16. The Church in Sardis had a name for Christianity, but there was no Christianity in it. Sardis

The capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia. It was situated in a plain watered by the river Pactolus. The city was of very ancient origin. Herodotus (i., 84) gives the account of its siege and capture by Cyrus, and of its previous fortification by an old king, Meles. It was ruled by a series of able princes, the last of whom was Croesus, celebrated for his wealth and his misfortunes. In the earlier part of his reign he extended his dominion over the whole of Asia Minor, with the exception of Lycia and Cilicia. The Lydian rule was terminated by the conquest of Cyrus. From the Persians it passed into the hands of Alexander the Great, after which, for the next three hundred years, its fortunes are obscure. In b.c. 214 it was taken and sacked by Antiochus the Great after a siege of two years. The kings of Pergamus next succeeded to the dominion, and from them it passed into the hands of the Romans.

In the time of Tiberius it was desolated by an earthquake, together with eleven or twelve other important cities of Asia, and the calamity was increased by a pestilence.

Sardis was in very early times an important commercial city. Pliny says that the art of dyeing wool was invented there, and it was the entrept of the dyed woolen manufactures, carpets, etc., the raw material for which was furnished by the flocks of Phrygia. It was also the place where the metal electrum was procured. Gold was found in the bed of the Pactolus. Silver and gold coins are said to have been first minted there, and it was at one time known as a slave-mart. The impure worship of the goddess Cybele was celebrated there, and the massive ruins of her temple are still to be seen. The city is now a heap of ruins. In 1850 no human being found a dwelling there.

The seven Spirits of God

See on Revelation 1:4.

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