The Church of Sardis
Sardis means “precious stone (i.e., the sardius stone), remnant.” Since a precious stone is rare, it carries the idea of a remnant, something not commonly found. Some teachers believe the word actually means “to escape,” but I cannot find any evidence to support this interpretation. The Greek word for “escape” is pheugo. This has no relationship to the name Sardis.
The Remnant Church
The Church of Sardis extends from 1517 to 1776 AD. It is essentially the Reformation Church, and they parallel the remnant of grace in Elijah's day who had not bowed the knee to Baal during the reign of Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kings 19:18). So it is fitting that Sardis would come immediately after Thyatira, the Jezebel Church.
Elijah apparently felt that he was almost the last true believer in the whole land. When he ran from Jezebel, he thought he must be the last believer left alive in Israel. In 1 Kings 19:10 Elijah tells God,
10 And he said, I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, torn down Thine altars and killed Thy prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
Being part of that Sardis remnant can indeed be a lonely walk. They must be willing to give up the security of being in the majority.
The remnant will often be asked, “How can your beliefs be right when so many great theologians say you are wrong? Surely, if your teachings were true, there would be more people who believed them.”
The reply is that for many centuries those who believed and thought differently were murdered and tortured for their beliefs. If they had not been systematically murdered by the Church, perhaps they would be in the majority. But, incidentally, there were very few times in the Old Testament where the majority actually did believe the teachings of the prophets that God sent to them. True believers have nearly always been in the minority. Why should it be any different today? People have not changed.
Sardis Had a Partial Revelation
In the message to the Church of Sardis in Rev. 3:1, 2, we read:
1 And to the angel of the Church of 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. 2 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.
The Reformation Church had a revelation of justification by faith alone, apart from submitting to a priesthood of men. They had a revelation that one did not need to belong to an earthly organization that men called “the Church” in order to be part of “the Church” in the eyes of God. This was good, but it was as far as they went. They had little or no concept of what it meant to be an overcomer. Their revelation was primarily of the feast of Passover and its meaning. They had little or no revelation of either Pentecost or Tabernacles.
And so even the Sardis Church of the Reformation was “dead.” And God did not find their deeds “ completed in the sight of My God.” In other words, their teaching was incomplete. They had the gospel of justification by faith alone, but they did not know how to experience Pentecost or go all the way into Sonship.
In order to attain the first resurrection at the second coming of Christ, one must qualify as an overcomer. As I showed in my book, The Purpose of Resurrection, most of the believers will inherit Life at the second (general) resurrection at the end of the thousand-year reign of Christ. Yet because so many in the Sardis Church were content with a mere Passover experience, they had fallen asleep, content to be “saved,” but did not know that they were incomplete. And so Rev. 3:3 says,
3 Remember therefore what you have received and heard; and keep it and repent. If therefore you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.
The implication of this seems to be that when the time of His appearance draws near, the overcomers will know enough so that His coming will not surprise them. He will not come to them as a thief. This idea is set forth again by the apostle Paul in 1 Thess. 5:1-6, which says,
1 Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you as a thief, 5 for you are sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; 6 so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.
In those days a band of thieves might ride into town in the middle of the night while everyone was sleeping peacefully, thinking they were safe in their homes. The thieves would essentially invade the town, plunder it, and then ride back to their hideout. This is the metaphor of Christ coming as a thief. It is not meant to picture a silent cat-burglar, but a band of thieves who come with “ sudden destruction.”
The Church of Sardis was warned not to fall asleep, lest they be overtaken by this destruction. In essence, it is their incompleteness that causes them to sleep and be caught unawares. This is a warning to those who are satisfied with being justified or “saved,” thinking that there is no further requirement to obtain the first resurrection and rule with Him for the thousand years in that coming age.
Sardis Told to Repent
Rev. 3:3 admonishes the Sardis Church to repent. Repent of what? That is the question. In general, it was to repent of not moving on into the revelation of Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. Most of them thought that once they were justified by faith, they automatically received the infilling of the Holy Spirit. They did not realize that Passover and Pentecost were two different feasts.
If they had known the story of Israel in the wilderness, they would have realized that Passover was the day Israel left Egypt, but Pentecost was the day God gave them the Ten Commandments. If they had contemplated this, they would have seen that Pentecost was intended to write the law upon our hearts as they were led by the Spirit—the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day.
Any time a Christian rejects a portion of the word of God, he needs to repent, that is, to change direction, or change his thinking. The Sardis Church was much like the Church in the wilderness under Moses. They had come out of “ Egypt ” out from the “house of bondage” (Rome), but they had fallen asleep on the way to Sinai. Yet God says in Rev. 3:4,
4 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.
God has overcomers in every age. These are the few who will actually receive the rewards listed in the message to the seven churches. They will receive them at the first resurrection.
The Reward of the Sardis Overcomer
God says in Rev 3:5,
5 He who overcomes shall 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.
In those days white garments were made of fine linen. The meaning of the white garments is given in Rev. 19:8,
8 And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
Fine linen is the garb of priesthood (Lev. 6:10). So the Bride of Christ is portrayed in Rev. 19 as also being the priesthood. From a New Testament perspective, we understand that this is no longer a Levitical priesthood, but one after the Order of Melchizedek. Thus, to be eligible for this priesthood does not require genealogy from Levi and Aaron, but a spiritual genealogy from Jesus Christ.
More is said of these in white robes in Rev. 7:13-15,
13 And one of the elders answered, saying to me, These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and from where have they come? 14 And I said to him, My lord, you know. And he said to me, These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them.
There has been tribulation in every age, and overcomers in every age as well. But the point is that these in white robes “serve Him day and night in His temple.” In other words, they are priests after the Order of Melchizedek. These fulfill the prophecy in Ezekiel 44:15-19 of the “sons of Zadok.” These prefigure the Melchi-Zadok Order and must be distinguished from the Levitical priesthood that are forbidden (in the previous verses) to serve God in the temple.
That these are the ones who inherit the first resurrection is plain from Rev. 20:6, which says,
6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
Thus, the reward specified for the overcomers in the Sardis Church is that they will inherit the first resurrection and be part of that priesthood that can minister to God in the temple in heaven as well as minister to people in the earth, the “outer court” (Ez. 44:19).
Most significant is the statement in Rev. 3:5 that “I will not erase his name from the book of life.” The implication of this is that it is possible for one to have his name erased from the book of life. The context shows that this is specifically referring to the person's status as an inheritor of the first resurrection. This is the issue. The Church itself will be “saved yet so as by fire” (1 Cor. 3:15) at the second resurrection, but the overcomers will receive their reward at the first resurrection. The overcomers will receive a “better resurrection” (Heb. 11:35) than the regular believer in Christ. There is a greater reward for going beyond Passover and Pentecost all the way into the experience of the feast of Tabernacles.
The Spirit of Wisdom
The Church of Sardis correlates with the Spirit of Wisdom. Even as the Church of Thyatira lacked knowledge of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Sardis Church lacked the wisdom to move forward into a complete relationship with Christ. Wisdom is largely the ability to apply knowledge by the mind and character of Jesus Christ.
In the Old Testament under Moses, Israel was told that the revelation of the law was their wisdom. Deut. 4:5-8 says,
5 See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. 6 So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. 7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him?
The purpose of the wilderness was to teach Israel wisdom, so that they would qualify to enter the Promised Land. If they had not stopped their ears from hearing the Law (Ex. 20:18 -21), God would have written it on their hearts, and they truly would have become “a wise and understanding people.” It appears, however, that only Caleb and Joshua qualified as overcomers in that day, and so they were the only ones of that generation who entered the Promised Land. Likewise it is with the Church in the Pentecostal Age, except for the overcomers.
Most of the believers in the Church of Sardis fell asleep, content in their truth of justification. Like Israel, they all came out of Egypt at Passover—as justified believers—but they fell short at Sinai (Pentecost). Without the law written on their heart by the direct voice of God, they were left with only a written record of the law. Sardis was likewise a Church with a written record of the Word, and many translations were made during those years (1517-1776). But in refusing to go further into Pentecost and receive a direct revelation of Jesus Christ, the law was not written on their heart. The written word changed many of their doctrinal beliefs, but not their hearts.
So much of that head knowledge that was learned by studying Scripture was misused and misapplied because of a lack of wisdom. Most were unqualified to receive the reward of the overcomers in the first resurrection.