The church in Sardis had a reputation of being alive but was dead. The frightening aspect is that they didn’t realize this. As Dr. Campbell says: “Those who have lost their spiritual edge generally do not recognize or acknowledge the severity of their situation.” So God may use severe measures, startling us, like a thief in the night, so that we wake up to the dangerous situation we are in.
Both Dr. Campbell in Mystery Explained, and Michael Wilcock in his IVP commentary The Message of Revelation, write that while Jesus will come like a thief in the night at the end of time, He will also come like that many times to warn us. He has done it throughout the history of His people. This is a new thought for me, but a good one.
The controversial part of this is that “the thief in the night” has been interpreted to mean that there will a secret return of Jesus which has been called the rapture, for just as a thief comes secretly, so will Jesus. They also believe He will come again where every eye will see Him at the very end of time. Not only is the idea of a rapture controversial, but also when this rapture occurs, if it does, is controversial.
Dr. Campbell doesn’t think there is one shred of evidence for a secret return and that the passage generally used to support that, (1 Thess. 4:13-18) is about the second coming. Those who believe in the secret return say that only believers will hear the trumpet call.
Wherever you stand on this, and true believers who love the Lord stand in many different places, it is not a matter of salvation. But two truths apply, wherever you stand.
1. We are to be ready for His return.
2. We are to be one as Jesus prayed in John 17. That doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything, but we must give grace and love. For that reason, please read and comment on this excellent one-page article from Mark Dever and Justin Taylor:
One of the main applications this week, wherever you stand, is to realize that God may come to us individually or as a body when we need waking up! Paul reminds us of how God sent venomous snakes to the Israelites.
Luke tells us of how God took first the life of Ananias and then the life of his wife Sapphira when they lied about how much money they were giving to the early church.
God wants a holy people, a holy Church, but sometimes it takes more than one wake-up call for us to hear.
Many of you have heard this wake-up story of mine before, so this is the Reader’s Digest version. I was speaking at retreats nearly every weekend, flying all over the country. I so needed my administrative assistant to handle the myriad of details. My problem, which truly put me into a whirlwind, is that whoever she was (and I had 4 different women in a 10-year-period) would quit and I had to find and train someone new in the midst of a packed schedule. I always thought the problem was her. Each resignation was meant to be a wake-up call, but I finally heard when it happened the fourth time. (CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?) He got my attention so that I cried out to Him to show me the problem. And He did. In one week He gave me the same message through His Word, His Body, and His Spirit. (The whole story is in my book Idol Lies.)
The problem was me, and my cowardly way of trying to get people to change with side-ways comments. That is not God’s way. When you do something your way instead of God’s way, it often leads to pain, pain that is a gift, like when you touch a hot handle.
God is shocking you to awaken you to the serious danger you are in. Revelation seems less “scary” when you realize the shocking threats come out of love, out of God’s desire to rescue you from great danger!
I repented and asked for forgiveness. But, I couldn’t stop there. As Dr. Campbell says, “Whatever else repentance is, it is always, as in the parable of the prodigal son, a return to God.”
I had to make a U-Turn and run to God, as the younger son did. Instead of trying to control my administrative assistant “my way” I had to do it “God’s way.” I cried out to Him to give me wisdom, and He did.
If she was doing something I didn’t like, I could either decide it wasn’t a big deal and overlook it in love, or I could sit down with her face to face and speak the truth in love. Those were the only options Scripture gave me.
True repentance makes us overcomers. All of my relationships, including my relationship with my Jesus, are so much better. And what could be sweeter than that?
True repentance is humbling, but then God lifts you up. I remember confessing my manipulative ways to Christy, who was truly a wonderful administrative assistant, but sin, as it does, had blinded me to the blessing she was. I asked her forgiveness for how I had hurt her, how I had dampened the joy she might have had for her first trip abroad when she traveled with me to Germany. She was so gracious, and God has given us such sweet fellowship. She even travels to Wisconsin in the frozen winter to see me!
In addition to having ears to hear this warning as individuals, we must hear it for our local church. Could we be like Sardis, relying on our past reputation rather than seeing vitality in our members? The only hope for a lethargic and dying church is repentance and revival. The message to the church at Ephesus was similar, so again we must Remember, Repent, and Return.
Two completely optional resources. (I do not want to overwhelm you, but some of you may want these — so, remember, completely optional!!!)
1. Optional: Documentary on Sardis from Joseph Stowall
2. Optional: At the end of the week I hope you can listen to this sermon on Sardis from the same church in Vancouver, Canada from whom we heard the 4 minute clips. This is from Pastor Norm Funk.
Sardis Homework Questions:
Sunday: Getting Started
- What stands out to you from the above and why?
- Has God ever jolted you to help you wake up and see your sin? If so, share briefly.
- How do you interpret the phrase “a thief in the night?”
- What stood out to you from the Mark Dever article?
- How do we know, from remembering the church at Smyrna, that suffering may not be connected with sin at all?
- Read Revelation 3:1-6 aloud.
- To whom is the letter addressed? (Rev. 3:1)
- How is Jesus described? Why might this description be appropriate to a sleeping church?
- Are they commended for anything? Explain your answer.
- For what are they rebuked?
- How are they to respond to this rebuke?
- Find both the warning and the promise.
- Share anything that becomes “radioactive” to you and explain why.
- In Mystery Explained, read the opening three paragraphs under “The Church at Sardis.” (In kindle stop at 923 at the words “But to the remaining faithful believers…)
- How were the city of Sardis and the church of Sardis alike?
- How does the description of Jesus show what they are lacking?
- Describe the two parts of repentance and give an illustration from your own life.
- What does the phrase “have not soiled their garments” mean?
Tuesday: I Will Come Like A Thief
I see a parallel between the church in Sardis and the Jews who were living in ancient Persia in the time of Esther. Though Mordecai had lived there a long time, no one even knew he was a Jew, for there was little difference between him and the people around him. There is quite a contrast, for example, between Modecai and Daniel. Everyone knew Daniel was a believer, for he had not been assimilated into the culture, even at the risk of his life.
- What awakened Mordecai? (Esther 3:13) and how did he and the Jews respond? (Esther 4:1-3)
- How does Esther respond in Esther 4:15-16? What elements do you see here that can lead to revival?
- What is similar between Christ’s greeting to Ephesus and now, to Sardis? How is the situation in Sardis more serious?
11.. G. K. Beale likens the people in the Church at Sardis to the Jews described in Revelation 2:9. What does Jesus say about them, and what does this mean?
Sometimes the phrase “nominal Christian” is used, meaning “in name only, not in reality.”
- Do the people in the world with whom you work or associate know you are a Christian? Do you think they have sensed love and integrity in you? Have you shared your faith winsomely with them? Explain.
- K. Beale and David Campbell write, concerning Sardis: In order to carry out their call from the risen Lord to proclaim the gospel they need the Spirit’s life-giving power…Their spiritual lethargy likely included not actively witnessing to their faith before the unbelieving culture.
- Guilt is not an effective motivator to get Christians to share their faith, but the power of the Spirit is. I know for me, seeing a life changed by God propels me to keep sharing. What helps you to share boldly?
- What does the word picture “I will come like a thief, and you will not know what time I will come to you” conjure in your mind? Why would Jesus want to startle us so?
Wednesday: I Will Never Blot His Name Out
- In the following verses, the same Greek word (onoma) is used and is translated, name, people, reputation. Find it and tell what you learn about it.
- Rev. 2:17.
- Rev. 3:1
- Rev. 3:5 (used twice)
- Read the rest of Dr. Campbell’s comments about Sardis in Mystery Explained that begin with: “But to the remaining faithful believers” and answer:
- What three promises are given to believers and what does each mean? (Take time with this.)
- When were the names of believers recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life? What does this mean to you?
- What else stands out to you from Dr. Campbell’s comments and why?
Thursday/Friday Sermon from Norman Funk (Optional but recommended)
- What stands out to you from the sermon by Norm Funk? (see the link in the intro)
- What is your take-a-way this week and why?