In Part 3 of The letter to the church in Sardis, we’ll look at the “But …” section. Things Jesus knows about the church. But unlike the Divine Knowledge of the previous section, this is not good news. Unfortunately for the church in Sardis, the bad news section is much worse than the good news in the Divine Knowledge portion of the letter.
This is where we see the church is Sardis being referred to as dead. Worse still, the description comes from none other than Jesus.
I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
Now that sounds bad, doesn’t it? Fatal? Generally, when someone is spoken about as being dead, there’s no chance for them. But we’re talking spiritually dead here – not physically dead. We’re also talking about something Jesus said. If they can come back to life, who better to be there but Jesus?
Before we begin, here’s the table we have for the letter to the church in Sardis.
|To||the angel of the church in Sardis|
|From||him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.|
|Divine Knowledge||I know your deeds;|
Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.
|But -||I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.|
|So -||Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. |
|Hear||He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.|
|To those who overcome||....|
He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.
So – is the Sardis church really dead?
So the church in Sardis has a reputation of being alive. Most likely, that means they were spiritually alive at some point.
The thing to remember here is that Jesus is the one who said the church is Sardis is dead.
Is dead really dead?
Let’s look at the Greek word that we read as “dead”. Does it really mean dead, the way we think of it? Or is there something in the Greek use of the word that has a different meaning?
3498 νεκρός [nekros /nek·ros/] adj. From an apparently primary nekus (a corpse); TDNT 4:892; TDNTA 627; GK 3738; 132 occurrences; AV translates as “dead” 132 times. 1 properly. 1A one that has breathed his last, lifeless. 1B deceased, departed, one whose soul is in Hades. 1C destitute of life, without life, inanimate. 2 metaph. 2A spiritually dead. 2A1 destitute of a life that recognises and is devoted to God, because given up to trespasses and sins. 2A2 inactive as respects doing right. 2B destitute of force or power, inactive, inoperative. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
Well, definition #1 certainly looks dead. However, the second is a metaphor. A figure of speech. In that sense, the word isn’t to be taken literally. If this is the way Jesus used the word, then it’s not an indication of death, as in the physical sense. Rather, it’s a spiritual use of the word. And as we know, as long as someone is physically alive, there’s still hope for the spirit. That hope is forgiveness from a loving God. A God who is just waiting for us to return to Him.
And remember, Jesus referred to Himself as holding the Holy Spirit and the angel of the Sardis church. He hasn’t yet taken them away. As we’ll see in a moment, it’s a very real possibility that Jesus will take them away. But it hasn’t happened yet. So maybe there is hope?
To find out, we turn to the very end of a passage directed at the Pharisees and teachers of the law – The Seven Woes.
23:1-7 pp — Mk 12:38, 39; Lk 20:45, 46
23:37-39 pp — Lk 13:34, 35
Mt 23:1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
Mt 23:5 “Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’
Mt 23:8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Mt 23:13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
[Mt 23:14 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.”] Is not included in the NIV, but is in some other translations. It would, of course, make eight woes. New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Mt 23:14). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
Mt 23:15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.
Mt 23:16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.
Mt 23:23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
Mt 23:25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
Mt 23:27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
Mt 23:29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!
Mt 23:33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.
Mt 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’’”
The placement of the final verses speaks volumes. It’s the very leaders of the Jewish people who prevent the people they lead from their creator! And now, the same thing is going on in the Church in Sardis. What we now call a Christian church.
Was this the problem back then? It’s certainly a problem we must watch out for today.
Let’s keep going and find out if this is the case.