Revelation 3a

SERMON TOPIC: Revelation 3a

Speaker: Gavin Paynter

Language: ENGLISH

Date: 10 December 2023


Sermon synopsis: V1 … you have a reputation of being alive but you are dead.
Like the town of Sardis, which had a reputation of being secure – but was actually vulnerable, so the church’s reality didn’t live up to their reputation.

What are the signs of a dead church?
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REVELATION – chapter 3


The letters to the 7 churches have a similar structure.

An address to a particular church.

An introduction of Jesus.

A statement regarding the condition of the church.

A verdict from Jesus regarding the church.

A command from Jesus to the church.

A general exhortation to all Christians with a promise of reward.

So far, we have looked at:

Ephesus: the doctrinally astute church which had left its first love.

Smyrna: poor, persecuted – but spiritually rich Church.

Pergamum: the compromising church.

Thyatira: the adulterous church.

Now we will examine:

Sardis: the dead church

Sardis: the dead church with a great reputation.

Revelation 3:1 (NIV)

1 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.

Sardis was located about 48km (30 mi) southeast of Thyatira and 80 km (50 mi) east of Smyrna.

a) An address to a particular church

“To the angel [messenger] of the church in Sardis write …

There was a massive temple to Cybele, the goddess of Sardis, whose identity was later merged with that of Artemis.

The building also functioned as a temple for the imperial cult under Roman rule. *

Built in 300 BC by the Greeks and later renovated by the Romans in the 2nd century AD, it was twice as large as the Parthenon in Athens and considered one of the seven largest Greek temples * with main columns 20 meters (60 feet) high and more than 2 meters (6 feet) in diameter.

* https:// artwork/ sardis,-temple-of-artemis-cybele--greek-art-

Croesus ruled the kingdom of Lydia from Sardis from 585 BC until his defeat by the Persian king Cyrus the Great in 547/6 BC.

The first coinage ever to be minted in Asia Minor was minted in Sardis in the days of Croesus. *

These roughly formed electrum staters were the beginning of money in the modern sense of the term. Sardis was the place where modern money was born. (Barclay)

* In English, the expressions “as rich as Croesus” is still used to indicate great wealth. Croesus become associated with the myth of King Midas – the man who supposedly turned all he touched into gold. His wealth, it is said, came from the sands of the River Pactolus in which the legendary King Midas washed his hands to rid himself of the “Midas Touch.”

“The great characteristic of Sardis was that, even on pagan lips, Sardis was a name of contempt. Its people were notoriously loose-living, notoriously pleasure-and luxury loving. Sardis was a city of the decadence.” (Barclay)

More than once, their softness and lack of discipline would be the downfall of Sardis.

The city was accessible only by a steep path on its southern side.

This limited access made it easy for only a few men to defend the city.

The original city stood high above the valley of Hermus and was surrounded by 1,500-foot high cliffs almost impossible to scale.

So the city was easily conquered on two different occasions.

In 549 BC the Persian King Cyrus had ended the rule of Croesus by scaling the cliffs under the cover of darkness. (Walvoord)

The residents were so overconfident in the natural defenses that they felt no need to keep a diligent watch.

In 214 BC Antiochus the Great also captured Sardis by sending a soldier through a crack in the northern wall. The soldier successfully sneaked into the city and opened its gates.

At the time Jesus spoke these words to John, the ancient city of Sardis had seen its best days and had started to decline. **

Yet it was a wealthy city, situated at the junction of several important roads and trade routes. The connection between Sardis and money – easy money – was well known in the ancient world. **

* https:// Revelation/ 3/ Revelation-3-1.html ** https:// bible-commentary/ revelation-3

In AD 17 an earthquake completely destroyed Sardis. Later, the Romans built a new town below the hill and left the original Sardis deserted. *

b) An introduction of Jesus

V1. … These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars …

Seven is the number of completeness. Thus, Jesus holds the fullness of the powers of heaven (the seven angels that stand before God), and the fullness of the church on earth (the seven church leaders). *

* In Rev 1:20 Jesus said that the seven stars are the angels (messengers) of the seven churches.

C) A statement regarding the condition of the church

V1 … I know your deeds …

As Jesus said to each church, He also said to Sardis. What a church is and what a church does is never hidden from Jesus. (Guzik)

Jesus knows your name. He knows where you are and what you’re dealing with. He knows your deeds. He is concerned about you and the church.

What Jesus KNOWS ABOUT the church

V1 … you have a reputation of being alive …

The church at Sardis had a reputation – of activity and vitality. But, much like the city, they were coasting of past achievements, indulging in pleasure and luxury, thinking they were on a spiritually safe hill when actually they were not secure.

“We are not to get the impression that Sardis was a defunct affair with the building a wreck, the members scattered, the pastor ready to resign.

It was a busy church with meetings every night, committees galore, wheels within wheels, promotion and publicity, something going on all the time.

It had a reputation of being a live, wide-awake, going concern.” (Havner)

The church at Sardis is given a positive comment, but that remark is really just a springboard to their criticism by Jesus. *

This church has a good reputation—this is a good thing—but that reputation doesn't actually match their spiritual state. *

* https:// Revelation/ 3/ Revelation-3-1.html


D) A verdict from Jesus regarding the church

V1 … you have a reputation of being alive but you are dead.

Like the town of Sardis, which had a reputation of being secure – but was actually vulnerable, so the church’s reality didn’t live up to their reputation.

Because stars are so far from the Earth, it takes distant starlight many years to travel to the Earth.

The light of every star that we see twinkling in the sky was actually sent toward the Earth many years - maybe even centuries - ago.

Light travels at 300,000 km / second. Because this universe is so vast, we use a unit for measuring distance called a light year, which is the distance that light travels in a year; 9.46 trillion km.

E.g. the stars in the constellation called the Big Dipper, range from 78 to 123 light years away from Earth.

When you look at the Big Dipper, you are looking back in time. You are looking, for the most part, at starlight that began its journey earthward over a century ago.

It is possible that some of the stars in the Big Dipper no longer exist. Though a star may not exist anymore, the light might still be traveling and not have reached us yet.

It’s similar to visiting an archaeological site like the Parthenon in Athens.

The structure testifies to a wealthy, powerful empire, still living off the reputation of past deeds - the faded glory of a dead empire.

The church at Sardis was like that -living on past glories, past starlight. They had the appearance and reputation of life, but they were in reality dead.


The Church of Sardis was busy, but not alive.

Despite their reputation of life, Jesus saw them for what they really were. “But you are dead” shows that a good reputation is no guarantee of true spiritual character. Despite their good appearance, Jesus saw them as dead. (Guzik)

Their problem was not scandalous wickedness, but a decent death. Their image said “alive,” but in substance they were dead. (Guzik)

Dead: This indicates no struggle, no fight, no persecution. It wasn’t that the church at Sardis was losing the battle. A dead body has lost the battle, and the fight seems over.

In this letter Jesus didn’t encourage the Christians in Sardis to stand strong against persecution or false doctrine, probably because there simply wasn’t a significant danger of these things in Sardis. Being dead, the church in Sardis presented no significant threat to Satan’s domain, so it wasn’t worth attacking. (Guzik)


They’re dead to the things of God. Notice several clues. Verse 2 mentions that some things are about to die, and he says this in relation to their works not being complete. *

God has works for them to do, like the ones he commended other churches for: love, service, witness, endurance. But they haven’t brought these works to completion. *

They go by the name Christian, but they’re not committed to God’s works. *

* https:// sermons/ sermon/ 2021-10-31/ sardis-waking-the-dead-who-think-they-live



1 John 3:14 (NIV) We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.

What is said of the individual here, applies as well to the church as a whole. A loveless church “remains in death”.


James 2:14-17 (NIV) What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.


Rev 3:2 (NIV) “I have found your deeds unfinished …”

Does your church leave Christ’s agenda “unfinished” to pursue their own?

Many churches can become so distracted by financial concerns, outreach schemes, and cultural relevance that their human efforts undermine the purity of Christ’s mission. *

* https:// bible-study/ topical-studies/ signs-from-the-church-at-sardis-that-your-church-may-be-dying.html

Christ’s mission for the church is a continuation of his earthly ministry. Its primary purpose is “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Eph 4:11).

Our labour is only effective when we are pursuing Christ’s plan.



Rev 3:1 (NIV) “… You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead”.

Is your church more concerned with boosting its own image than God’s? When a church becomes hyper concerned with brand, growth, numbers, and programs, that’s a sign of spiritual illness. *

A great reputation and a full house are worthless if they are only the toe-tags of a dead church.

* Ibid.


The PR role for the Church belongs to Christ alone. He’s in charge of “building the church” (Matt 16:18) and only he can legitimately add to its numbers “those who are being saved” (Acts 2:47).

Bret Rogers relates: From age 15 to 21, I worked for a metal building company as a welder. One thing I remember creating was the façade. It’s the front of a building—the part everybody’s going to see.

Quite often, the façade is greater than the building itself. The façade might be 30 feet tall. But one peek around the side, and you notice the building itself is only 20 feet tall. The other 10 feet is for decoration—it gives the appearance of being greater.

Other times you’d build a façade to hide less attractive things like AC units and plumbing vents. In any case, the façade puts on a show, either to cover the ugly or to make what’s inside look more impressive. *

Sardis is a church that looks good from the outside.

From the street, it’s an appealing church. The people are vibrant. *

The church appears healthy. Everybody shows up on Sunday. They go through the motions. *

But when Jesus walks among this church, he finds that it’s only a façade. The church is actually dead. *

* https:// sermons/ sermon/ 2021-10-31/ sardis-waking-the-dead-who-think-they-live

Matt 23:27-28 (NIV) “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. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Like the church at Sardis, the Pharisees had a great reputation (they looked “beautiful on the outside”) but were spiritually dead inside.

It is someone who puts on a mask, someone who is fake. The term exposes them as religious frauds.

In Christianity, it refers to a person who goes through the forms, the outward motions of Christianity, but inside is spiritually dead.

The same thing can happen to a church as a whole. It can be living on past reputation of spiritual vitality, but inside, there nothing going on spiritually; there is no vitality. The church is dead.

Jesus called them hypocrites –which comes from the Greek term for “actor.” It is someone who pretends to be one thing but is really another.

2 Tim 4:3 (NIV) For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

Like Sardis, the false prophets had a great reputation: (“Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” ~ Luke 6:26, NIV)


The church of Sardis was “a perfect model of inoffensive Christianity” [G.B. Caird]

Unlike some of the other churches, Sardis doesn’t seem to have been facing any persecution. There’s no “seat of Satan” here; Satan didn’t need to attack. The church wasn't alive enough for the culture to care that it was there; their neighbours weren’t excited or offended. A lack of being counter-cultural, a lack of recognizing threats, and a lack of seeing the need to be salt and light had left it at peace, but it was “the peace of the dead. [William Barclay]

Paul described such Christians by saying they seem quite religious but have no outward evidence of God’s power in their lives.

2 Tim 3:5 (NIV) having a form of godliness but denying its power…

G. E. Ladd describes the Sardis church as “a picture of nominal Christianity, outwardly prosperous, busy with the externals of religious activity, but devoid of spiritual life and power”.

“We can preach without offending, but we cannot preach the full counsel of God without offending. *

We can proclaim a message that makes people feel good. But the gospel brings people face to face with their sin and failure. The gospel that saves is also the gospel that offends!” *

* Ibid.


In an effort to reach the masses with the Gospel, many modern churches have compromised sound doctrine for humanistic teachings that won’t offend. *

Instead of preaching the Word of God that has the power to transform lives, these pastors have settled for a watered-down version of the message that promotes tolerance and trivializes hard truths. *

If a church is not willing to “hold fast” to God’s Word, guard it, and faithfully preach it, in season and out of season—that church is dying or dead. *

* https:// bible-study/ topical-studies/ signs-from-the-church-at-sardis-that-your-church-may-be-dying.html


The church at Sardis is told to “Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast” (Rev 3:3).

Are the sermons in your church human- centered or God-centered? Are they preaching the Word of God or focusing on how to have a happier life, marriage, or job? Do you attend church to hear feel- good preaching, or entertaining, non-threatening experiences? *

* https:// Revelation/ 3/ Revelation-3-6.html



Paul instructed Timothy, a young pastor, to preach the Word.

He predicted a time when people would refuse to endure sound teaching. They would turn away from the truth and prefer preaching that would tickle their ears and cater to their personal desires (2 Tim 4:2–4). *

* Ibid.


James 5:19-20 (NIV) My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.


Going into error (wandering from the truth) can ultimately lead to spiritual death.


Dave Miller says, “On the surface, it seems noble to attempt to avoid offending people with our evangelistic efforts. I’m actually a non-confrontational person and the fear of offending or annoying people has kept me from sharing the gospel at times. But when we attempt to remove the offense of the gospel, we risk removing the heart from it as well.” *

Paul said something strange as he was chiding the Galatians for their return to the Law after having been set free from it. He expresses his fear of removing the offense of the gospel:

Gal 5:11-12 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.

* https:// 2022/ 05/ 01/ an-inoffensive-gospel-is-no-gospel-at-all

We can seek to be kind and loving in our manner. We don’t have to act like we are happy that people are going to hell. As much as is possible, we must allow our message to offend, but not our manner. *

1 Pet 3:15 (NIV) Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…

* Ibid.

We preach an offensive message. It is not necessary that we be personally offensive in that proclamation! *

And we cannot shy away from that. Our responsibility is to the truth of the gospel, not how people feel about us. *

What Is Offensive about the Gospel? The gospel says some things that people do not want to hear.

* Ibid.

Yet no matter how nice you try to be, the message will offend.

Tell people how good they are and they will love you for it. Give them therapy and feel-good fluff from the pulpit and you can fill a colosseum and write bestsellers. *

Tell them that they are sinners separated from God by that sin and they will not appreciate you or your message. But you cannot preach the true gospel without confronting human sin. *

* Ibid.

The gospel tells people that they are sinners who are in rebellion against God.

Miller notes, “One of my children’s favourite books was ‘I Can Do It Myself.’ I’d rather do a mediocre home-improvement project myself than pay someone to do it perfectly. I did it my way! *

But the gospel tells you that, in fact, you cannot do it yourself. No matter how many good works you do, how many acts of charity you perform, how many generous gifts you give, it will never be enough.” *

* Ibid.

The gospel tells us that our good works are not enough (Eph 2:8-9) and that “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Rom 3:10)

Paul told the Jews that their religion would not save them unless they believed in Jesus as the Messiah. He says that they had a zeal for God, but it was not based on knowledge (Rom 10:2) Their religion may have been sincere, but it did not save.

He told the Gentiles that their idols were false gods with no power to save. False religions send people to hell while making them feel good about themselves on the way.

The gospel tells us that our religion is not enough.

Miller remarks, “I am not advocating boorish behaviour by Christians. I am making a simple point. Our message is offensive. Jesus promised it would be. Peter and Paul both experienced it. You cannot remove the offense of the gospel without removing the power of the gospel to save.” *

* Ibid.


Discipline is replaced with tolerance. Jude refers to “godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 4). He refers to these apostates as “twice dead” (v 12).

In a dead church people may be told, ‘to just love,’ ‘to not judge,’ and ‘let people live as they are.’ While God does love us, he also requires us to repent.

Dirty clothing is a symbol for moral defilement. While some Christians walk with Jesus in purity, there are others who do things which make them unclean before God—sexual immorality, lying, hatred.

The deadness of this church is related to moral compromises with the world.

Jesus mentions that a few in Sardis have “not soiled their garments” (v 4). In other words, most of them have soiled garments (dirty clothes).


Contrasted with a godly woman, the Bible says that a woman “who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives” (1 Tim 5:6).

Many churches have moved from edification, which is based on education (Eph 4:11-12), toward entertainment, food and fun.

Paul asked the pleasure-loving Corinthians, “Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in?” (1Cor 11:22, NIV)

The church is not in the entertainment business, it’s the “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1Tim 3:15, NIV) which reveals “the manifold wisdom of God” to the world (Eph 3:10).


If you feel like you’re just going through the motions at church, you probably are.

Isa 1:12-13 (NIV) When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me … I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.

Not every church gathering will be filled with excitement, but when the Body of Christ has the opportunity to come together for corporate prayer and worship—the presence of Christ should be sensed and experienced as a source of life and light. *

* https:// bible-study/ topical-studies/ signs-from-the-church-at-sardis-that-your-church-may-be-dying.html

Spiritual lethargy is the state of indifference or inertia with regard to your spiritual growth and vitality.

Are your church gatherings marked by an atmosphere of spiritual lethargy?

Jesus says, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die” (Rev 3:2).


Growth in plants is indefinite because they have the capacity for unlimited growth throughout their life. If a plant isn’t growing – it is dying.

Similarly, when a church has no growth–then that church is dying.

This doesn’t just refer to membership or attendance but believers maturing as Christians. Some churches get numerical growth at the expense of spiritual growth.

Can you see spiritual growth in your church members? Are they overcoming sins they previously battled with? Can you sense their deep desire to learn God’s Word and to grow spiritually?

If not, your church may be dying; or it might already be dead.


But there also should be numerical growth. A church can either evangelize or fossilize.

We have been given a command by Christ, to “go into all the world.” Yet most of us won’t even go next door.

If we’re not “going”, we’re not growing. A church that doesn’t seek the lost is a church that is itself lost - and dead.


The reason some folks don’t believe in missions or evangelism is that the brand of Christianity they have isn’t worth propagating.


Is our Christianity the revolutionary, first-century kind that turned the world upside down and changed the course of history?

The reason some folks don’t believe in missions or evangelism is that the brand of Christianity they have isn’t worth propagating.


Oswald J. Smith said:

“The supreme task of the Church is the evangelization of the world.”

“Any church that is not seriously involved in helping fulfill the Great Commission has forfeited its biblical right to exist.”


Jesus told the church at Sardis to wake up or he would come like a thief does. “You will not know at what time I will come to you,” he said (2:3).

Does your church have an expectation of the imminent return of Christ? Are people warned to get ready?

At the rapture Jesus will come like a thief. The church that is sleeping will be unprepared for his coming – like the five foolish virgins.


The church at Sardis is told to repent (3:3).

Repentance has been a foundational doctrine preached since the early days of the Church. But lately, Satan has been hard at work to veil the truth about the deadly nature of sin, and he is busy warping the truth about the essential doctrine of repentance. *

Does your church encourage repentance? If not, it is a dead or dying church.

* https:// bible-study/ topical-studies/ signs-from-the-church-at-sardis-that-your-church-may-be-dying.html

Luke 24:47 (NIV) “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem”

This, folks is the true gospel that Jesus commanded his disciples to take to the world:


If repentance is not our main message, we are in danger of becoming like the Sardis church, having a great reputation – but being spiritually dead.

AUTHOR: Gavin Paynter

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