Jesus scolded a Christian congregation that had lost its spiritual zeal. What’s the key message for us? Stay fervent!
[Darris McNeely] Christ issued a stern challenge to the church at Sardis. He warned them to avoid the silent killer of complacency. He told them to wake up. The times we live in mirror those of the Christians living in Sardis. Do we think we are strong and in control? We may be unprepared for the turn of events right in front of us.
You're awakened at night by a sound beyond the bedroom door. You hear something. It's not normal. Your heart thumping. You realize someone is in your home. What do they want? You break out in a cold sweat. Your heart starts racing with fear and someone has broken in. Your secure, silent sanctuary has been breached. You're being robbed, your safety broken. It's not what you expected when you turned off the lights, went to bed, but a thief has come in the night and you are now awake. And you are alert. And you know you must do something.
You know in the Bible in several places, it speaks of the events coming upon us suddenly without warning. Twice you will find that phrase "like a thief in the night" used in the New Testament. And it usually speaks of the coming of the day of the Lord in all the places it's used. That is speaking of trouble. They come silently in an unexpected manner.
It's used as a metaphor of warning to us to be alert, awake and aware of our time and of dangerous moments and situations that can catch us unaware. Now here on Beyond Today, we have been going through a series on the messages to the seven churches, the seven congregations that are found in the Book of Revelation that existed in the area of what was called then Asia Minor at the end of the first century.
The setting of this is the Apostle John on the island of Patmos when the resurrected Christ appears to him in a dramatic vision and begins to lay out not only these messages, but the scenarios of the entire book of Revelation. In fact, the Book of Revelation is written to these congregations, and the messages that are there carry very important, vital warnings and instruction to us today.
Christ in those messages issues very strong, very stern warnings and challenges to the churches. To the Church of Sardis He said, Wake up, repent, strengthen your spiritual life against the times in which they were living at that time. And the world that they lived in at the end of the first century A.D., it mirrors the world that we're in right now as 21st century Christians. The message to the church at Sardis is really very relevant to the times that we are experiencing in our world today.
We're in some troubling times. It carries a message of warning to avoid the silent killer of complacency. Now we can think we're strong. We can think that we are alert, we're doing quite well. But the reality is we can also have a weakness and that weakness can be exploited. We could be unprepared for a turn in fortune or a turn in events that are in plain sight before us. But we're not aware we're not ready. They come upon us like a thief in the night.
The message to this church in Revelation chapter three, the Church at Sardis, carries a very important, timely warning for each of us. It comes from Christ, who is the coming judge of all the nations, and what He says to that church is important for us to consider today. He says, watch. He says, repent.
Now, look at this map of the southern church congregations that are mentioned there in Revelation chapters two and three. The first message is to the church at Ephesus, and then He progresses in order through Smyrna, to Pergamon, to Thyatira, and we're down now at the area of Sardis. The fifth one on the list, the fifth of the seven. On previous Beyond Today programs, we've looked at each of the messages to those previous churches. Sardis is number five.
In Revelation chapter three and verse one Christ says to the angel of the church in Sardis, “write these things, says He who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” Christ tells those in the church at Sardis to be watchful to strengthen the things that remain. He says, "You're alive, but you're dead." Alive but dead. Kind of a contradiction. It's really a picture of a group who are content with their position, yet unaware of the danger that is close by.
Now, a story from the ancient city can help us understand exactly what Christ is saying. Ancient Sardis had a citadel on a mountain 1500 feet above everything else there, and this is what it looked like. The city was thought to be unconquerable. You look at that and you can say, how did, how would somebody scale those cliffs? In the sixth century, B.C., Sardis had a king named Croesus and he thought that he and his army and his city were large enough and wealthy enough to invade the neighboring kingdom of Persia at that time, ruled by the famous Cyrus the Great. Now, he wanted to be sure that he could beat Cyrus. And so what he did is he traveled to the famous Oracle at Delphi and inquired of that oracle whether he should go to battle. And according to the story, the Oracle said to him, "on the day you crossed the River Palace and the Persian territory, you will surely destroy a great empire."
That's what the Oracle said. Now, Croesus, thinking that he will succeed against Cyrus, confident in a position, thinking that he would destroy a great empire attacked Persia. But after an inconclusive battle, he withdrew back to his home base at Sardis. It was in the wintertime when armies didn't fight. He didn't think that Cyrus would follow him, that Cyrus would wait till spring to resume fighting. But Cyrus the Great was not called great for no reason. He followed Croesus, and he set up a siege of Croesus at his mountaintop fortress. Croesus, overconfident in the height of his defenses, did not post enough guards at the critical points of the mountain.
Now, the story in history tells us there was a Persian guard, a soldier who found an unguarded way into the Acropolis, where, according to the history there was no guard stationed, where there was no fear that it would ever be conquered at that place. The Acropolis is sheer and impregnable there. This comes from the historian Herodotus. What happened then was Persian soldiers entered the city and they opened the gates and the city of Sardis, thought to be secure, was captured. Now, that story led to a reputation for the city that endured through the ages of a city that had complacency and it was told throughout the ancient world.
Many commentators and feel that this story from King Croesus is what lies behind the statement Christ makes to Sardis to not fall to the trap of complacency, thinking that they are filled with pride and thinking that they could never be beaten. You should wake up. Christ says repent lest he, Christ, come to them as a thief on the night. The church at Sardis was being choked by the silent killer of complacency. They were content with who they were, their status as Christians, but they were not spiritually alert. And Christ is giving a very stern, unique, and yet loving rebuke to them. Now we can all listen to this message that Christ gave to Sardis because we can be in danger of complacency.
We can think that we stand without falling. Christ is giving a warning to the church there, and it is a warning to not be caught unaware when he appears. Students of the Bible know that the Bible talks about Christ's second coming. It's a common belief of many who study the Bible. The study guide that we are offering on today's program is entitled "Seven Prophetic Signs Before Christ Returns." You can understand those signs and not be caught unaware when Christ returns. That's the point of what He says to Sardis, and that's what's important for us to understand now. So call the number on your screen or go to online, to online, to BeyondToday.TV to download immediately your free copy to begin reading this or order this for your own use. It's a study guide that will help you understand the seven signs before Christ returns. To not be caught unaware. Now the book of Revelation interests us because we know about these messages to the seven churches. You know, for generations people have studied seriously these messages to the seven churches. Through the recent years, archeology and other work has been done to shed additional understanding on what these messages mean in the setting of the time that Christ gave them.
One thing that stands out is the fact that these seven messages from Christ, the living head of His Church, is that He is actively involved in his church today. Christ is aware not only of His church, but of all major world events that are bringing this age to a close. And the prophecies of Revelation are taking place before our eyes today. That's why people are interested in not only the Book of Revelation, but the messages to these churches. These messages to the people of God have never been more vital to understand than they are today. So let's look at what Christ says. Let's go further into what He says to this congregation in Sardis. “To the angel of the church in Sardis write these things, says He who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your works, but you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” Christ is showing here by the very power of His Spirit, that He has complete control over His spiritual body, and He asserts that power to shock the members of the church is Sardis into a revival.
Christ is the King, He is the Messiah. He's more powerful than Rome or any other earthly nation, and Christ's work through His church will prevail by His Spirit. And when the Church listens to its head, Christ, it can then be a very powerful tool for good. And so the church needs to listen. And we all need to pay heed to what Christ is saying here. He says that you have an identifying name, as He goes on in the message there. Well, they did. They were the Church of God. But as I've said, He said "You're alive, but you're dead." And you know, what exactly does that mean? Well probably the best way to understand that phrase, you're alive, but dead is that it's a stern warning from to the members there and to us today. Not to rest on their past works. There's an immediate spiritual danger.
You can imagine the church in Sardis having been known probably in their past for many good works. I'm sure they had a very strong zeal for the gospel in their early years. They turned from their pagan beliefs they were likely very hospitable, very friendly, outgoing, supportive. But events in the culture and time had worn them down. They were coasting on a name and a reputation that had faded. They 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 had been among the oldest and the most famous in the ancient world of Asia Minor, and the city fathers continually appealed to their past glory. But by the time of the late first century, when Christ gives this message, the city of Sardis had been long past its prime and the church caught in the same rut.
They were tired, they were old, they were complacent. And Christ is saying to them, "Wake up." Notice what He says next. He says, "Be watchful, strengthen the things that remain, that are ready to die. For I have not found your works perfect before God." This term "to be watchful" carries the idea of being alert and in a constant readiness. The word is always used in relation to the end time events that are foretold in Scripture.
Both Christ and the Apostle Paul used that term to urge disciples to be alert to the signs of the coming day of the Lord. I want to come back to that in a moment. But Christians need to be alert to the times, understanding what they mean in the prophetic flow of the Bible and of history. It is very easy to be complacent, thinking that even our present world, our present time will continue in this present state and everything will always be the same.
Christ's statement gives a very clear picture of really what must have been a divine inquiry. He says, “I've not found your works perfect before God.” This mirrors the picture that we see elsewhere in the book of Revelation, of a heavenly arena of God's throne. There you see God the Father enthroned and around Him are what are described as four great living creatures, and around them are what are described as 24 elders. And then there's the picture of the Lamb of God. Now this heavenly presence that Revelation gives us is something that is constant. It's monitoring the affairs on the earth. That's the scene that we get from the throne of God. Nothing escapes the knowledge of God and the Lamb and the angelic beings, the spirit beings in the throne of God.
Christ is telling the members in Sardis their works have been examined and they're found lacking. We have to ask as we read this, what's our spiritual condition like? Christ is delivering a preliminary judgment in the form of a warning. He says you're complacent. You're alive but comatose. He says, wake up, wake up to the reality of your spiritual condition. Strengthen your remaining life. There's time, there's hope, there's possibility. There He goes on in verse three and He says, "Remember therefore, how you have received and heard. Hold fast, repent," He says, you have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments and they shall walk with me and white, for they are worthy. There are members in Sardis who had been vigilant and remain strong in the faith.
The surrounding culture had not diluted their faith, their true faith and zeal. The prescribed remedy that Christ gives is to strengthen the people and the works that remain in Sardis. There's work yet to be done in perfecting the bride of Christ this warning hits home today. There is a work Christ is doing with His Church. It is being prepared as a bride for the coming marriage at the second coming of Christ. Revelation 19, in verse 7, it says, "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, alive in name only. Christ's Church, at the end of the age, will be watchful, will be engaged in the mission given to it by God. It will be preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God and Christ says "Therefore, if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief and you will not know what hour I will come upon you." And that is a warning not only to the Church, but to all who are reading and should listen to it.
When the members in Sardis heard that line read to them in their meeting, they would have immediately remembered the story I told you earlier of King Croesus, who thought himself and his city safe in their mountain fortress. Yet Cyrus the Great came with his army literally as a thief in the night and caught them by surprise. Their complacency was their downfall. Cyrus is the figure that is mentioned by the prophet Isaiah 150 years before his birth who will be the conqueror of Babylon, protector of the Jews. And the prophecy about Cyrus foreshadows the later coming of Christ the Messiah. And so the connection between Cyrus and the coming of the Messiah would have been enough to awaken the members in Sardis.
Would that warning from Christ, be enough to awaken you to the times in which we live in the danger of complacency? I hope so. It is something that we really do need to think about. You know in the Gospels the disciples of Christ came to Him wanting to know the signs of His coming out of the end of the age, and Christ gave them several key events that they should be looking for. We're living today in a moment of great change and peril, and we're seeing war and pestilence. Will we see famine as a result?
What about those who speak in Christ's name but spread false religion? What's coming next? God's not left us without a prophetic roadmap through these times, which is why our free study guide, "Seven Prophetic Signs Before Jesus Returns" is so important to help understand this significant biblical event of Christ's coming so that we are not caught unawares. So call the number on your screen by going to BeyondToday.TV for your free copy of this study guide.
Now we've been studying the messages to the churches in Revelation, and Revelation is a book of prophecy showing us the events of the Day of the Lord. So we could ask the question, where are we in Bible prophecy? Well, we're at a time before the appearing of a great world power that is described in the Book of Revelation as Babylon the Great, a vast political economic power that dominates the end of the age this system will appear in a manner to deceive the world into thinking that it is a spiritual solution to world disorder. And those who do not worship this system and take its mark, the revelation shows they'll be considered to be outcasts. Those who do not know the true God and His son, Jesus Christ, will be caught unaware. They'll not be watching. They'll be asleep. This message to the church at Sardis has importance to us now. A very important message to us.
We find details in Revelation 17, where we read of a final attempt to revive what is the ancient Roman Empire by ten kings who received their kingdom and authority for one hour as kings with the beast. And the book says that they are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. This power called a beast is a political leader that is prophesied to emerge on the world scene in a time of crisis.
This leader of a system the Bible calls Babylon will promise peace and order. They will also make war with the Lamb, Jesus Christ and the Lamb will overcome them, scripture says, for "He is Lord of lords and King of kings." Now this prophecy is still future, but Revelation 17 suggests that this will be a voluntary union where these ten leaders receive power and give their authority to a single leader.
Scripture refers to both this individual and this new super power that he leads as the beast, acknowledging it as a continuation of four of the Gentile empires that are mentioned back in the book of Daniel. Each one depicted as a beast or as a wild animal. Really, only now is it possible for this to be understood and fulfilled.
The Bible is not clear in exactly which regions or nations will configure that final revival of this militaristic superpower. Only that this new superpower will emerge just before Christ's return. So what should you do? You should avoid complacency. Be awake to the times in which we are living. The Apostle Paul talked of this in 1 Thessalonians 5 when he used the same metaphor of a thief in the night. Beginning in verse one, he says to us and to his people, "Concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you for 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 upon them as labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they shall not escape. But you brethren," Paul writes, "are not in darkness so that this day should overtake you as a thief. But you are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep as others do. But let us watch and be sober."
Very strong. A very important warning that is given here by Paul to the Church, mirroring the very words that Christ has in Revelation 3 to the church at Sardis to not be caught unawares by the killing problem of complacency and not understand the times and be caught unaware of the Day of the Lord. The Bible contains many prophecies. Revelation is a capstone of those prophecies in so many ways. The purpose of prophecy is to give Christians hope for the future and an understanding of today's world. Prophecy, in the end, is to prod us to live transformed lives, submitting to God's righteous rule in our life.
The seven prophecies that we talk about in this booklet, the study guide "Before Jesus Returns," are very important because they talk about past and future events that set the stage for Jesus's second coming. God's sincere desire is that you are filled with hope, not fear, and a desire to live a godly, transformed life by the sure word of God being faithful to the Word of God and to His teachings. This study guide, "Seven Prophetic Signs Before Christ Returns" is designed to help anyone who looks at it to understand this most significant biblical event of the second coming, the return of Jesus Christ as King of kings and Messiah. So call the number on your screen. Go online to BeyondToday.TV, order your free copy. And even those of us that may be well familiar with this concept might want to look at those seven signs as well and make sure that we are not caught unawares, that we are not impacted by the problem of complacency.
Christ's final comments to the church at Sardis point to the hope of the future reward in the coming Kingdom of God. He says that "He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments and 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."
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