Revelation - 3b

SERMON TOPIC: Revelation - 3b

Speaker: Gavin Paynter

Language: ENGLISH

Date: 21 January 2024


Sermon synopsis: We are currently looking at the fifth church.

Sardis: the dead church with a great reputation.

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REVELATION – chapter 3

We are currently looking at the fifth church.

Sardis: the dead church with a great reputation.




















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

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.

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

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.

The Greek historian Herodotus tells the story of the fall of Sardis in days of Cyrus. King Cyrus came to Sardis, and found the position of the city ideally suited for defense.

There seemed to be no way to scale the steep cliff walls surrounding the city. He offered a rich reward to any soldier in his army who could figure out a way to get up to the city.

One soldier studied the problem carefully, and as he looked he saw a soldier defending Sardis drop his helmet down the cliff walls. He watched as the soldier climbed down a hidden trail to recover his helmet.

He marked the location of the trail and led a detachment of troops up it that night. They easily climbed the cliffs, came to the actual city walls and found them unguarded. (Guzik)

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.

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.

Decades prior to the writing of these words, the original city of Sardis had failed to maintain active sentry duty and paid a heavy price for its neglect.

What was assumed to be an impenetrable fortress was overrun thanks to complacency and arrogance. (Guzik)

The church in Sardis was a reflection of the city’s historical character – they had also failed to be watchful.

They assumed they could live on their reputation, but it was a false assumption.

They were asleep while dreaming that everything was fine.

Sardis fell, not because of the might of the attacking armies, but because their overconfidence in their security caused them to stop being watchful.

They were “dead men walking” and on spiritual life support.

They were proud of their past achievements and “resting on their laurels”. They put on a good face (they had a good reputation); however, they were living in the shadows of the past.

They probably believed that they could go on indefinitely without changing their attitude.

They thought that all was good; but they had a false sense of security. They were spiritually “asleep at the wheel.”.

Winston Churchill said to Britain during World War II: “I must drop one word of caution, for next to cowardice and treachery, overconfidence leading to neglect and slothfulness, is the worst of wartime crimes.”

Revelation 3:2-3a (NIV)

2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.

3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent …

Jesus commands them to take action. They were to:

Wake up.

Strengthen what remains.

Remember what you were taught.

Obey and repent.

e) A command from Jesus to the church

Jesus warns the sleeping church at Sardis to “wake up” (ESV), “Be constantly alert” (NASB) or “Be watchful” (NKJV)

In other words, they must be on their guard spiritually; in a continual state of watchfulness.

Only this will keep them from becoming caught off-guard and overrun by the enemy.


This is not the first time Jesus has told his disciples to wake up.

Mark 13:32-37 “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It’s like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.”

Conversely, staying awake means being busy doing his business.

Christ says, Wake up (to the Master’s business)!

Scripture repeatedly uses the analogy of sleepiness to expose the pitfalls of spiritual complacency.

Eph 5:14 (NIV) This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

So sleeping is an image for not doing your Master’s business.

Don’t think you are spiritually OK or invincible with regards to temptation or attacks by the enemy of your soul.

Just because you are not fighting some great spiritual battle now, doesn’t mean Satan is taking a break.

Like the soldiers of Cyrus at Sardis, he is spying out a way to get you to let down your guard.

What happened to Sardis can happen to any Christian if they become overconfident.


Satan will search out and attempt to find a way to your heart that is left unguarded.

Peter says that we need to remain awake, spiritually vigilant, and on guard against his schemes.

1 Pet 5:8 (NIV) Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

We are in a spiritual battle and it may be fierce sometimes and things may appear quiet at other times. But we should never become complacent.

Just when you think that you are spiritually safe and secure is the time the enemy will strike. Paul warns about becoming spiritually lax due to thinking you are secure.

1 Cor 10:12 (NASB) Therefore let the one who thinks he stands watch out that he does not fall.

You might think you have built an invincible spiritual fortresses when, in fact, you haven’t.

It is easy to only resist the main frontal assaults and miss the thief sneaking in “to kill and destroy.”

The church at Sardis had probably not become lax overnight. Most likely, they had been on a slow downward spiral spiritually for some time. Now the influence of the world had taken root and the tolerance of sin had taken its toll.

Perhaps over time, your heart has become calloused and cold. The enemy has climbed over what was once an impregnable wall of faith because you were not spiritually on guard.

The worldly desires of the heart, if not restrained, can overtake and drown out the voice of God. Without knowing any difference, you can become spiritually weak and vulnerable to attack.

We should be less concerned about the times culture blatantly promotes sin than when it just subtly blends into the background and becomes inadvertently adopted by Christians. Here’s how subtle sins work:

“Who wants to join me in a murder?” Easy pass. The spiritual fortress is solid.

“Who wants to join me in expressing how much we loathe Person X on social media?” I’m in! The spiritual fortress is breached. *

* https:// sermons-messages/ lessons-from- revelations-7-churches-part-5-sardis-a-call-to-spiritual-revival

“I won’t take revenge on you even though you hurt me; vengeance belongs to God.” Spiritual fortress is solid.

“But I sure hope somebody does and I hope it hurts you like it hurt me!” Spiritual fortress is breached. (Matthew 5:38)

A healthy sense of self-worth… subtly becomes pride.

Prayerfully sharing a concern… turns into gossip. *

* Ibid.

Enjoying the material luxuries around us… becomes materialism.

Being a good steward of money… becomes greed.

Being responsible with what you have been given… becomes being selfish with what you have been given.

Wishing you could have some of the success people around you have (which can be a good motivator)… becomes envy (they actually don’t deserve it and I do.)

* Ibid.

Trying to connect the dots to better understand the actions and motivations of a public figure… becomes slander based on rumour and innuendo.

The gift of persuasion… turns into the art of manipulation.

A love of direct honesty… becomes an excuse for harshness.

Righteous discernment… morphs into unrighteous judgment.

A desire for seeing people held accountable/ responsible… becomes unforgiveness.

It’s subtle. We have to wake up and keep watching to see the thief sneaking into our city. This is what we pray for – revival, a renewing of our hearts and minds that begin with Holy Spirit clarity. *

* Ibid.

2) Strengthen What Remains

Next, Jesus tells the believers to strengthen what remains. He was warning those who were not completely spiritually dead, but they were not spiritually safe either.

The things which remain tells us that though the spiritual condition of the church of Sardis was bad, it wasn’t hopeless. Spiritually, there were things which remain that could be strengthened. Jesus had not given up on them, and though it was late (that are ready to die) it was not too late. (Guzik)

The only hope is a few tiny sprouts, but even they will die unless someone starts nurturing them. What they do have—even if it’s almost nothing—they must strengthen what remains. *

Meaning, if you can find even one thing that squares with God’s ways, nurture that one thing. Commit yourself to it. Tend to it. Cause it to increase more and more. Strengthening is necessary for revival. *

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

In Acts 18:23, Paul went from one place to the next, “strengthening all the disciples”.

In Romans 1:11, Paul earnestly desired to impart a spiritual gift in order to strengthen the church.

Timothy traveled to the Thessalonian church to strengthen and exhort their faith (1 Thess 3:2).

In the New Testament we often find the saints strengthening one another.

“… for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.”

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

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. *

* Ibid.


 This shows that their works, though present, had not measured up to God’s standard.

The presence of works isn’t enough because God requires a particular intent and purpose in all of our works.

They should be done with a heart and in a manner that show them to be perfect before God. (Guzik)

Under Christ’s scrutiny their works are not reaching their full expression. They are incomplete; there was still work to be done for God. 

Jesus has appointed you to a specific post in his church. But have you fallen asleep on the job and, in doing so, jeopardized the well-being of others?

Remember that your compromises with the world aren’t limited to you; they hurt others. *

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

How about you? Are you bringing the Lord’s works to completion in your life? Or, are you making moral compromises with the world?


The believers in the church of Sardis once believed and were spiritually alive, but something happened. *

The spiritual flame that once burned bright in their hearts had grown cold. There were a few glowing embers, but the flames had died down. *

* https:// sermons-messages/ lessons-from-revelations-7-churches-part-5-sardis-a-call-to-spiritual-revival

The lack of spiritual conviction or enthusiasm can cause you to become spiritually weak or lax regarding the things of God. You can become lax and allow an area of your heart to be open to sin and false teaching. *

That is why Jesus tells them to REMEMBER WHAT THEY WERE TAUGHT.

Any church that is sliding away from the truth must remember its initial encounter with Christ.

* Ibid.

We make decisions every day based on remembering the past—something we learned or experienced; something that happened in history that we weren’t even there for, but still live our lives according to the realities those events created.

Remembering isn’t just a mere recollection of facts. The past re-enters our present so as to have an effect on our future. *

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

They must “remember”. We might not often think of it, but memory has a powerful effect on our lives.

The problem with Sardis isn’t that they didn’t know enough, or that they hadn’t received what they needed. The problem is this: what they did receive, they hadn’t kept it. *

They became “hearers only” and not “doers of the word.” (James 1:22)

With that teaching came instructions on how to please God. They must also remember to keep that instruction. Keeping has to do with observing the ethical demands placed on Christians and following through. Those largely involve resisting the world’s idolatry and persevering in allegiance to Jesus in thought, word, and deed. *

* Ibid.

Jesus wants them to remember what they received and heard. What they received and heard was the gospel - the apostles’ teaching - which is a point of reference for past, present, and future faith.

The fundamental foundations of the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be forgotten. There is no replacement for orthodoxy (right belief) with a foundation of biblical truth on which we build our lives. *

Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent.

From right teaching comes right actions and right emotions.

* https:// sermonblog/ 2021/ 10/ 17/ sardis-church-of-the-living-dead-revelation-31-6


Like many of the other churches in Revelation, Jesus calls upon the Sardis church to repent.

Repentance is not just being sorry for your sinful ways but a complete 180 degrees turning from what you were doing before, and an active pursuit of what Jesus demands.

Some people think repentance is a 360-degree turn. You say sorry and keep walking in the same direction.

Let’s recap Jesus’ instructions to a dead church:

Wake up spiritually.

Strengthen what remains.

Remember what they were taught.

Obey and repent.

Once you are awakened to the truth of the Gospel; once you recall the truth of the Gospel of grace; once you put into practice what you know is the truth of God, you only need to repent and begin to obey the word of God in your heart.


Revelation 3:3b (NIV)

3 … 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.


Christians who slumber in complacency do not live up to their high calling in Christ Jesus.

We find a challenge from Jesus and a warning about what will happen if the church at Sardis rejects the challenge. If they do not wake up, Jesus will come like an unexpected and unwelcome thief.

How would Jesus come upon them? He could come in the sense bringing immediate judgment. Or, He could come in the sense of His coming at the rapture of the church (1 Thess 4:16-17). Used in either sense, it showed He might come suddenly and unannounced, so they must be watchful. (Guzik)

In Mark 13:32-37 we saw the analogy of sleepiness is used to alert us to the fact that we need to be ready for Christ’s return. Likewise in the following Scripture:

Rom 13:11 (NIV) And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.

Now, more than ever, we need to be alert!

1 Thess 5:4-6 (NIV) But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.

“If the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Look how Jesus uses the thief analogy in Matthew 24:43.

A faithful church stays alert and diligently completes God’s works while anticipating Jesus’ return. *

We need to act wisely by preparing to meet Jesus.

We must stay alert to our Master’s business.

Whatever he entrusts to you—make sure to use it to serve his kingdom.

Revelation 3:4-5 (NIV)

4 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.

5 The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.

6 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

v4 (NKJV) You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments …

All was not lost at Sardis. There was still a glimmer of spiritual life in the church. A few faithful believers had kept themselves pure. They were alert and ready for the enemy to attack. *

They had avoided the corruption that permeated the culture. No stain of immorality and idolatry soiled their lives. Unlike their slumbering fellow Christians, this faithful minority had kept a watchful eye for anything and anyone that might cause them to stumble and fall into sin. (Guzik)

* https:// sermons-messages/ lessons-from-revelations-7-churches-part-5-sardis-a-call-to-spiritual-revival


Remember that the first coinage ever to be minted in Asia Minor was minted in Sardis in the days of Croesus. This was “the beginning of money in the modern sense of the term. Sardis was the place where modern money was born.” (Barclay)

“The connection between Sardis and money – easy money – was well known in the ancient world.” (Guzik)

“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)

An earthquake had destroyed the old city, and the Romans built a new city below the hill. It was a wealthy city, situated at the junction of several important roads and trade routes.

For the Christians in Sardis, the call to overcome and remain faithful to the end was not a call to resist a harsh attack from outside the church.

It was a call to resist something far more subtle: the spiritual complacency and self-righteousness that too easily follows luxury, comfort, ease. *

* https:// sermonblog/ 2021/ 10/ 17/ sardis-church-of-the-living-dead-revelation-31-6

Like the faithful minority at Sardis, we must not soil our clothes. Keep yourself unstained from the world. and chose to walk in purity.

v4 (NKJV) … and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.

As a reward, they’re getting what their lives have proven they want the most, Jesus! They want to walk with Jesus, and that is what Jesus will give them! Like Adam walking with God in the Garden, those who overcome will walk with Jesus in the New Jerusalem. *

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

The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white.

Roman officials customarily wore white clothing at religious festivals as symbols of high honour.

White clothing that is given to the faithful represents not only honour but also purity and righteousness. (Guzik)

Jesus promises 3 things to overcomers:

Having unclean garments symbolizes moral defilement, moral impurity due to sin that separates you from life in God’s presence. That doesn’t mean they’ve never sinned but that God has taken away their sin.

Zechariah 3:3-4 (NIV) Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”

White garments are mentioned on 6 other occasions in Revelation.

The church at Laodicea needs them to hide their spiritual shame (3:18).

The 24 elders wear white garments (4:4).

The martyrs waiting for God’s judgment are given white robes to wear (6:11).

The armies appearing with the Messiah also wear white and clean linen (19:14).

The great multitude of the saved in Revelation 7 wear robes made white in the red blood of the Lamb (verse 14). [The colour paradox here makes the point. It implies that the colour white stands for God’s people made spiritually pure and justified by Jesus’ blood.]

In the ancient world, white clothing also stood for festivity.

Eccl 9:7-8 (NIV) Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil.

Rev 19:7-8 (NLT) ... For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself. She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.” For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people.

The bride of Christ is clothed in white. It is their day of victory, a time to put on the best of clothing, clean and white.

Jesus promises, “He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life…” (Rev 3:5)

Those who teach Eternal Security battle with these verses and their take on Revelation 3:5 is that since all who are truly saved are overcomers, this is actually a promise that no name can be blotted out.

But for Jesus to make such a promise implies that the possibility exists of having your name blotted. J. William Fuller comments, “A command that everyone keeps is superfluous and a reward that everyone receives for a virtue that everyone has is nonsense”. *

* “I Will Not Erase His Name” p. 299


Robert L. Thomas writes, “The promise to the overcomer is an empty one unless the possibility exists that such blotting out could occur. What incentive is furnished by being promised deliverance from something that could not happen?” 1

1 Revelation 1-7 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), 261, p. 182


God tells Moses that he removes the names of those who sin against him from his book (Ex 32:33)

Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book.

Those who teach Eternal Security try make these hypothetical warnings – but if there were no possibility of our names being removed from the Book of Life, why bother to warn us?

Does anyone suggest that the following verse means we never sinned? No, rather we sinned – and they were removed.

Acts 3:19 (ESV) Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out

Likewise, to be blotted out of the Book of Life, your name must have been there in the first place and subsequently removed.


Ian Howard Marshall writes, “The possibility of failure to endure is mentioned. Christians who fail to persevere will come under judgment and their names will be blotted out of the book of life. There is no reason to suppose that these warnings are purely hypothetical, directed against non-existent dangers; the reverse is the case. Moreover, the reference to the book of life indicates that John is addressing his warning to believers”. [Kept by the Power of God, p. 175]


… but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.

Similar to his promise in the gospels made to those who openly confess him before others, Jesus promises these victorious overcomers that he will confess that they belong to him before his Father and the angels.

Matt 10:32 (NIV) “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.

Craig Koester explains this well: “Acknowledging someone means affirming a relationship with that person in a way that shows loyalty and favour. Since Christ has a position of honour before God and the angels, those he acknowledges share in the honour that belongs to him.” *

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

He’s speaking about faithful Christians publicly aligning themselves with Jesus instead of fearing man.

It seems the opposite is the case for most of the church in Sardis.

So, they’re not committed to God’s works, they’re making moral compromises with the world, and they’re not publicly acknowledging Jesus out of fear of man. *

Do you acknowledge Jesus’ name before others?

* Ibid.

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

This verse calls upon everyone with ears to pay attention to Jesus' inspired messages to the churches and obey the instructions they contain. *

A church’s top priority should be obedience to the Word of God. A beautiful building, a dazzling pastor, a plethora of age-related programs, a full pastoral staff, and overflowing offerings pale in comparison to a congregation that hears and obeys God's Word. *

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

We must realize that this letter circulated not only to Sardis, but to all seven churches. All the churches must listen to what the Spirit was telling this one church. We can’t think of ourselves too highly. We must read a message like this with humility. *

How can we stay among the faithful? How can we guard ourselves from becoming a façade, from becoming a church “in name only”? *

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

It’s too easy to become Christian “in name only.” Nominal Christianity is a common problem. It happens for a variety of reasons.

Perhaps a church begins to embrace the religious pluralism of our culture such that they no longer uphold the exclusive claims of Jesus.

Others desire to fit in with the culture—they fear looking irrelevant and accused of bigotry, and so they water down the message.

For others, materialism distracts from total obedience—people begin loving their possessions more than Christ’s kingdom.

* Ibid.

With others, they preach what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace”: “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance… [it’s] grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

Others aren’t careful enough with church membership. They baptize the unregenerate and they tolerate the unrepentant, such that over time a false church replaces the true one.

Others wear the name “Christian” because it best aligns with their moral and political positions, but not because they love Jesus. A church can also have all the right answers but lack the Spirit’s regenerating work.

* Ibid.

In the face of this culture, how should we respond so that Jesus does not say of us, “You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead”?

For starters, make sure that your own faith is genuine, that you’re not just putting up a façade.

Do you hunger for God and pursue knowing him more deeply?

Are the Scriptures necessary sustenance for you, like bread for your soul?


Do you treasure time in prayer, calling on the Father often?

Do you sense God’s Spirit reassuring your spirit that you are his child?

Have you reduced Christianity to hearing the word without doing the word?

Are you loving members in your church sacrificially? What has the call of Christ in the gospel costed you lately? Anything?

Are you a gracious, merciful person to others, knowing God’s mercy toward you?

Do you acknowledge Christ before others, or assume that everybody is okay?

Spend some time thinking about these questions. Set them before the Lord and ask him for discernment.


If you find that you’ve been faking it just to fit in, pretending to maintain an image, repent and trust in Christ. Come to him now. Don’t wait until the Day he says, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

Ask his forgiveness today. If you already know him, ask the Lord to expose any façades that may exist in your life, and to replace those façades with real, whole-hearted, consistent obedience.


AUTHOR: Gavin Paynter

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