Wake Up, Ye Dead!

Posted: November 15, 2010 in Revelation

Revelation 3:1-6, “Wake Up, Ye Dead!”

With the last several letters, we’ve seen a progression.  Compromise leads to corruption – corruption leads to a corpse.  Pergamos had compromised… Thyatira was corrupted…  Sardis is a corpse.  It wasn’t merely that their doctrine and behavior were compromised – it wasn’t just that their leadership was corrupted.  Rather, their faith was dead.

There’s no more dangerous place in which a church can find itself.  Why?  Because dead people can’t usually diagnose anything about themselves…they’re dead.  The only thing a dead person can do is receive what’s being done to him/her.  Thankfully, our God is in the business of breathing life into dead things! …

There are many reasons why churches die: finances, scandals, splits over carpet color, etc.  Yet if there’s one cause that will absolutely guarantee its death, it’s this: abandonment of the gospel.  When a church of Jesus Christ abandons the gospel of Jesus Christ, death is not only guaranteed; it’s deserved.

That’s where the church in Sardis found itself: dead in the sight of Christ and without hope unless they repented.  Jesus extended mercy & grace to this church by giving them an opportunity to repent, but they needed to wake up & take it.  This was not an opportunity to be wasted!  Life in Christ comes through abiding in Christ through His gospel.  Without the gospel, we don’t have life – no matter what we look like on the outside.

Revelation 3:1-6 (New King James Version)

1 “And to the angel [messenger/pastor] of the church in Sardis write,

  1. Where was Sardis? [MAP]  30 miles south of Thyatira along the normal postal route.
  2. Important commercial city known for its textiles (which might explain Jesus’ references to ‘garments’), riches, temples, & its fortifications.  It also had a massive necropolis (graveyard) consisting of hundreds of burial mounds that stretched for miles around (which might provide some context for their description of being “dead.”).  Because of its fortifications, the city had been attacked many times, but rarely defeated…yet the way it was overthrown provides some insights for the church.  (DA Carson) “Sardis was built on a mountain and had an acropolis which was viewed as impregnable. ‘To capture the acropolis of Sardis’ was proverbial in Greek to do the impossible. But no less than five times the acropolis was conquered, twice through lack of vigilance.”  In both of those instances, the armies of Sardis had left a (apparently not-so) secret pathway to the city unguarded & the enemy came up & conquered them from within. The church at Sardis had apparently done the same – they left the foundational things of their faith unguarded, and apparently had already lost the battle. 


‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.

  1. Fits the normal pattern for the letters.  Jesus begins with a description of Himself from Ch 1 (His initial appearance to John), and declares He knows the works of the church whom He’s addressing.
  2. 1st description: Jesus is “He who has the seven Spirits of God.”  This same wording is given in Ch 1:4 when John is giving a greeting from the Triune Godhead [REV 1:4].  Obviously the Godhead did not expand from 3 Persons to 9; the reference to the “seven Spirits” is a reference to the one Holy Spirit of God.  ‘Seven’ is often used as a number of “completeness” – thus we have the fullness of the Holy Spirit shown.  Zechariah had a similar vision regarding Zerubbabel & the building of the temple where he saw the Holy Spirit presented as a 7-branched lampstand (Zech 4:2).  Isaiah was given a similar prophecy about the Spirit’s seven-fold ministry in the life of the prophesied Messiah (which Jesus quoted about Himself): Isaiah 11:1-2 (1) There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. (2) The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. []  Obviously the Holy Spirit is not divided; this simply speaks of the fullness of His work.
    1. To say that Jesus has the 7 Spirits of God is to say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from Christ.  Jesus promised that God the Father would send the Spirit to the Church after Jesus’ ascension (Jn 14:16) & Jesus promised Himself to send the Helper after Jesus’ own departure (Jn 16:7).  In Christ, a believer is born of the Spirit (Jn 3:5), sealed by the Spirit (Eph 1:13), indwelled by the Spirit (Jn 20:22), empowered by the Spirit (Acts 2:4), filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), given adoption by the Spirit (Rm 8:15), taught by the Spirit (Jn 14:26), and much more.
    2. Because Jesus has the Holy Spirit, He is truly qualified to tell who is sealed by the Holy Spirit as His own.  That takes us into the 2nd description…
  3. 2nd description: Jesus is “He who has…the seven stars.”  If there were any doubt as to the interpretation here, Jesus personally interprets this phrase for us in Ch 1 [REV 1:20].  7 stars = 7 churches.  Not only is this a reference to the 7 local church congregations to whom Jesus is addressing in the various letters, but it’s likely a reference to the universal Church throughout history.  There’s ultimately ONE Church…Jesus’ Church.  As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, there’s one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God & Father of all, who is above all, through all, and in us all. (Eph 4:4-6)  The 7 churches speak of the fullness of the 1 Church.  Jesus is the one that builds the Church (Mt 16:18), Jesus is the one Who is the head of the Church (Col 1:18) – Jesus is the Good Shepherd of the Church (Jn 10:14), Jesus is the bridegroom of the Church (Rv 21:9).  With all that in mind, it’s safe to say that Jesus knows who is IN the Church & who it is that belongs to Him.
  4. What does Jesus know about their works?  He knows that Sardis is truly a hypocritical church.  They have a reputation for being “alive,” when in reality they are “dead.”  Last week with Thyatira we made the comparison of the hypocritical corrupt church being like the Pharisees whom Jesus called “whitewashed tombs”: clean on the outside, but dead & decaying on the inside (Mt 23:27).  We might say something similar about Sardis – yet it’s actually a bit worse.  With Sardis, there’s nothing that Jesus could commend them on at all.  At least with the Pharisees, Jesus could tell the people to heed their teaching, but just not do what they do (Mt 23:3).  But even whitewashed tombs are still known to be tombs…people understand that what is inside is dead, simply by looking at them.  For Sardis, people thought that this church was alive…but the truth was the exact opposite.  People would think that Sardis was a church congregation where people would want to be (active, vibrant, true, etc.); in reality it was a place that was so far removed from Jesus that they were proclaimed to be dead.
    1. What does it mean for a church to be dead?  Some scholars think this may be a reference to their immorality or lack of faithfulness to Christ – and certainly there are many church congregations (perhaps even whole denominations) that fit this category today.  Others (and I would agree) believe it’s much worse.  Jesus came to give us life; this was a church that was dead.  This was a congregation of people who claimed to be Christian, but they did not have the life that Christ offers.  I.e. this was a so-called “church” filled with people who weren’t saved…they weren’t born-again.
    2. Keep in mind that just because someone claims to be a Christian doesn’t mean that they actually are one.  That’s not to say that we can arbitrarily declare ourselves to be judges over someone’s salvation (God forbid!  We should take heed to ourselves…) – but it’s simply a fact that there will be many who claim the name of Christ for themselves when they are anything BUT born-again believers in the Lord Jesus.  Jesus told us this would be the case. [Parable of wheat & tares]  Matthew 13:28-30 (28) He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ (29) But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. (30) Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ” []  Jesus goes on to explain the parable that the good seed of wheat represent those who are sons of the kingdom, but the tares are those who belong to the devil (Mt 13:38) – we may never know who’s who, but Jesus does & it will be revealed on Judgment Day.
  5. Bottom line?  Jesus knows the truth regarding our hearts!  We can’t “pull one over” on the Lord of the Universe!  Jesus knows the difference between those who are dead and those who are alive because He is the One who seals us with the Holy Spirit & from whom the 7 Churches (the complete Church overall) proceeds. 


2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.

  1. What was it that showed their “deadness”?  Jesus had not found their “works perfect before God.” “Perfect” = “complete/perfect/fulfilled.”  (This is not speaking of moral perfection; there’s a different Greek word used for that…)  At 1st glance, it may seem like Jesus is telling the Sardians that their works/deeds are what make them complete in the sight of God – yet that’s completely the opposite of what the rest of the New Testament teaches.  It’s perfectly clear that we are saved by grace through faith & not of works, lest any man should boast (Eph 2:8-9).  Elsewhere Jesus states plainly that we are saved though faith alone – that’s the whole point of John 3:16: “that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
  2. So if Jesus isn’t telling the Sardian church that their works help them earn their salvation, what IS He saying?  Simple: their works aren’t perfect because they hadn’t trusted Jesus to make them perfect.  Their many works (and they would have had many good deeds in order to have a reputation of being alive) were surely good in the eyes of those around them, but ultimately they were lacking.  Their works were left incomplete, no matter what they did.  Why?  Because they were dead; they were outside of Christ & thus everything they did would be lacking.  Outside of Jesus, our righteousnesses are like filthy rags (Isa 64:6).  Yet when we are IN Christ Jesus, HE makes us perfect.  He did the work (“it is finished!”) – He completed the task – He justifies us & makes us perfectly righteous in the sight of God.  Though we still walk in our fallen flesh & struggle with sin here on earth, spiritually speaking (positionally) we are completely perfect & righteous before God.  Not because of us, but because of Jesus. [] So what’s the problem with their works not being “perfect before God?”  No perfection = no justification.  No justification = no Jesus.  That’s a BIG problem!
  3. The solution?  It’s two-fold…Jesus says first to wake up!  “Be watchful” = wake up!  Get with it!  Open your eyes to what’s really going on!  The church was already dead & more were about to die.  This wasn’t a time to be lazy & lacksadical; this was a time to be alert & do whatever needed to be done.  When someone falls asleep behind the wheel, it’s no time for the passenger to start messing with the radio or vanity mirror; it’s time to WAKE UP!
    1. There are people sitting in the pews of churches all over America that need to wake up!  Dead Christians that attempt to do good works for the world without regard to their own salvation are like those (as Dr. J. Vernon McGee might say) who try to polish brass on a sinking ship.  It’s not that the good works are somehow bad; it’s that their priorities are misplaced.  Every flight attendant will tell you when the oxygen masks drop to put your own mask on first before attending to your child…you can’t help anyone if you’re passed out.  Likewise with the dead church.  First & foremost they need to be SAVED.  Then they can (and should) do all the good works they can.


3 Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. 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.

  1. Solution part-2: get back to the gospel! “Remember therefore how you have received and heard.”  What was it that they had received?  The gospel of Jesus Christ.  Whether or not the church at Sardis was founded by Paul, we don’t know.  But we do know that Paul’s pattern (and likely those who followed him) was to always go into a city & share the gospel first with the Jews & then with the Gentile.  He makes it clear in his letter to the Corinthians: 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 (1) Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, (2) by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. []  Paul declared it; the church received it.  Sardis would not have been any different.  The gospel would have been proclaimed to them & apparently received by them at first – but now they weren’t holding fast to it.  They needed to remember what it is that had been proclaimed to them – remember what had been passed to them by the apostles & disciples – remember what those going before them had received & trusted – and then hold fast to it.  We must hold to the pure gospel of Jesus Christ!
    1. Without the gospel of Jesus, we have nothing!  The gospel is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (Rom 1:16).  The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18).  If the gospel isn’t true (if Jesus did not in reality die for our sins & rise again to life), then our faith is futile, we are without hope & we are to be pitied (1 Cor 15:17-19).  Understand that the gospel is not optional for the Christian.  It’s not that we put our hands up in a prayer, profess Christ once & then mark it off the list as something we never need to look at again.  The message that Jesus died for our sins & rose from the grave is the very foundation of our faith & relationship in Christ.  EVERYTHING we do for Christ is grounded in the fact that He died for us & lives today.  Everything we do as a church MUST be grounded in the gospel.  Sardis was a church that had apparently abandoned the gospel; may God in His power guard us from ever doing the same!
  2. What to do?  Repent!  Turn back to the message of Christ – reconsider that which they had originally received.  This wasn’t to be some sort of half-hearted, lukewarm confession where they muttered “I’m sorry” & moved on; there needed to be a complete 180-degree turn!  Like anyone placing their faith in Christ for salvation, they needed to recognize their own need – repent from their sins – receive Christ as Lord. … Keep in mind that they were dead…what they most needed was LIFE.  The only way they could receive that life was by repentance & faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, Who alone had the power to give them life.
    1. That’s no different for us today.  There may be people in this room who need the exact message of the church at Sardis.  Wake up & remember the gospel!  Repent & place your faith in Christ today…
  3. What would happen if they didn’t?  They were in for a very nasty surprise: Jesus would come back & they wouldn’t be ready.  Reminiscent of the parable of the wise & foolish virgins. [Matthew 25:1-13]  The 5 foolish virgins thought themselves to be in the same wedding party as the 5 wise ones (they had a name for being alive) – but the problem was that they had no oil (nothing of the Holy Spirit – they were dead).  They weren’t ready for the bridegroom to arrive & they missed his coming…exactly what Jesus was warning the church at Sardis about.
    1. Some scholars point out that Jesus may have been warning the Sardians about a specific judgment He was bringing to their particular, historic church congregation.  (After all, the rapture & 2nd coming had not yet happened – we’re still waiting for it, though we’re always to be ready.)  Either way, the thought is the same: the one they claimed as their Master would soon be coming for them, and they would not be ready for His coming.
    2. As believers, we need to live our lives in such a way that we’re always ready to see Jesus face-to-face.  We tend to forget this as we go on through the routine of our lives…  Yet whether by death or rapture, every single one of us lives with the very real possibility of standing before our Lord God at any given moment.  We don’t want to be ashamed of what He finds at doing at that time – we want to be ready!


4 You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.

  1. The only bit of good news for Sardis is that not everyone was dead.  Some (perhaps most) of those who claimed to be Christians in the church were not believers, but there were “a few names” who trusted the Lord Jesus.  They were clothed “in white” & walked with Jesus.  Speaking of the righteousness they had received from Christ…  They were not “defiled” because they were in Christ.  The others had heard the gospel, but abandoned it – their garments were defiled.  But a few (a remnant) remained pure because they were rooted in Jesus & in fellowship with Him.
  2. How could they be considered worthy?  Because Jesus said so.  Outside of Christ, we are completely unworthy of salvation.  None is righteous, no not one (Rom 3:10) – we’ve all sinned & fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).  But if Jesus makes us worthy, then we are worthy indeed!  Our worth isn’t found in ourselves; it’s found in the One who declares us worthy.


5 He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.

  1. Follows the normal pattern for the letters & winds down with a word for the overcomer/conquerer.  Speaking of those who abide in Christ, Jesus promises 3 things:
  2. Jesus clothes us.  We once were clothed in garments that were defiled – but Jesus clothes us in His own righteousness. (2 Cor 5:21)  Zechariah saw this in a vision as Joshua the high priest was clothed in filthy garments standing before the Angel of the Lord – the Angel of the Lord (Christ) commands that his old garments be taken from him & rich robes given him, showing his sins were taken away (Zech 3:3-4).  This was a common element in Jesus’ parable, showing the wedding guests clothed in proper wedding garments (Mt 22).  The whole idea is that outside of Christ, we were clothed in our sin, but in Christ we are clothed in the righteousness He grants us. 

                                             i.      Don’t miss this fact: in the sight of God, you are clothed in Christ.  What blessing!  What honor!  We are not seen by God in our sin; we are seen by God as cleansed by Christ in the blood of the lamb!

  1. Jesus preserves us. We are kept safe by Him from Satan (Jn 10:28-29)…  Nothing shall separate us from His love…

                                             i.      Question: “So had Jesus actually blotted out the names of those who were dead?  Can someone’s name be blotted out of the Book of Life?”  1st rule in Bible interpretation = “observe”…look at what’s actually written in the text.  Notice that Jesus never addresses the dead church in these words – this is spoken specifically to the overcomers.  Those who walk with Christ will be preserved by Christ – and that’s a wonderful assurance!  What’s implied about those who were dead usually depends on someone’s theology.  On one side, there are those who would say that when the dead Christians left the gospel, they fell into utter apostasy & left the faith.  On the other side, there are those who would say that the dead Christians never truly received Christ in the 1st place…they may have had a reputation for doing so, but it never happened.  Keep in mind that neither scenario is desirable & both end up at the same eternal result: eternal death & hell outside of Christ.

                                           ii.      The best way to treat this statement is not for what Jesus isn’t saying, but for what He IS saying.  Those who overcome are forever kept by our Lord Jesus – we are guarded by Him & no one (not even the Devil himself) can ever snatch us out of His hand!

  1. Jesus confesses us.  What a marvelous thought!  As born-again believers, we confess Jesus Christ as our Lord & Savior (Rom 10:9), yet when Jesus is our Lord, He also confesses us as His own!  Matthew 10:32-33 (32) “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. (33) But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. []


6 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”’

  1. Do you hear what the Spirit is saying?  Of all the letters to the various churches, perhaps the church at Sardis is easiest for people to ignore.  After all, everyone thinks of themselves, “At least that’s not me…I’m not dead.”  Don’t be so quick to brush it off!  Examine yourselves to see if you’re in the faith!   Take time to determine whether you’re in Christ or whether you need to wake up!



The message to Sardis was to wake up & remember the gospel!  Repent from their abandonment of it & hold fast to what they had originally received.  To those who were true born-again believers, the message was to abide in Christ & continue to walk with Him.

The message is no different with us.  If you’re trusting in Christ alone for salvation, don’t quit!  Stay rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ & walk with your Savior in the power of the Holy Spirit/  He knows who it is that belong to Him, so trust your Lord to keep you & preserve you.  He’s trustworthy!

To those of you who are like the rest of the church at Sardis & are people just playing “church”: repent!  Hopefully there’s no one like that in this room, but statistically there surely is.  Certainly there’s someone hearing the sound of my voice either live or recorded that are among those who put on their “church face” every Sunday, but deep down know they’ve abandoned the gospel they once heard.  You may have a reputation for being alive, but Jesus knows the difference.  Just like those in Sardis, you’re spiritually dead.  And you will remain so…unless…you repent & trust Christ through the gospel!  The gospel is the power of God to salvation.  You must repent & believe in order to be clothed in white garments & have your name written in the Book of Life.  Without the gospel – without Christ – you have no hope.  Trust in the One who can give you hope & eternal life today.

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