May 22: Revelation 3:1-6

Skipping Thyatira, we’ll head on to Sardis, the fifth of the seven churches in Revelation. This one is briefer and more to the point than the previous two we’ve looked at, and to be quite frank, Jesus doesn’t have a ton of good things to say. But we never want to turn away from hard messages from Jesus—only he has the words that lead to life.

Some background on the city of Sardis will be helpful. Sardis was built up on a mountain with tall walls and steep cliffs below them; people thought Sardis was unconquerable. And yet, a few centuries before John’s lifetime, Sardis was conquered twice (547 BC and 214 BC), supposedly because watchmen on the walls had neglected their duty. In John’s time the two falls of Sardis became a sort of parable about complacency and negligence.

That history is the backdrop for Jesus’ word to the church in Sardis, “Wake up!” Jesus told the church that their reputation of vitality obscured the truth of their condition, but this reality wasn’t lost on Jesus. What we shouldn’t miss here is that Sardis sure seemed to be healthy, and their reputation of being a vibrant church doing the work of the gospel was plausible both to the believers in Sardis and to onlookers in other Christian communities. But “the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). People might have been fooled, but Jesus was fully aware of the truth.

And praise Jesus that he didn’t want Sardis to truly die! Aware of the truth, Jesus came and revealed it to them that they might not perish as a church, that they would repent and turn back to their “first love” (Rev. 2:4) and their reputation might reflect reality. In discussion we’ll try to get at this (“What did Jesus want for his church in Sardis?”) and see that Jesus’ hard words are a mercy to them and his foremost desire wasn’t to Bible bash them but to call them back to himself.

Then in discussion we’ll turn to 1 John 1:5-2:6 to get a sense for the kind of obedience Jesus calls us to. In Revelation 3, we could read “I have not found your works complete” or “people who have not soiled their garments…for they are worthy” and think that Jesus is condemning them for not doing enough or earning his approval. But 1 John will help us see what, to God, comprises obedience: us walking humbly with God, being faithful despite temptation, repenting when we sin, being cleansed not by our own efforts but by Jesus’ death on our behalf, and endeavoring in new obedience. This isn’t a command to perfect ourselves but, as Revelation 1:3, a command to hear Jesus’ word, to heed it, and to know that it brings life.

Finally, in discussion, we’ll take a hard look at ourselves. Perhaps some of us are like Sardis, perfectly put-together on the outside but wasting away on the inside. Perhaps we have sin and struggle that has gone unconfessed, relational strife that has gone unaddressed, repentance that has gone undone. This is a perfect week for us to all stop and, wherever necessary, to have Jesus draw us to an account. It is far better to receive a hard diagnosis than an autopsy.

Questions for Discussion
Revelation Resources →

• Could someone read Revelation 3:1-6 for us?

• What stood out to you from the passage?

• What did Jesus want for his church in Sardis?

• Turn to 1 John. Could someone read 1 John 1:5-2:6?

• Jesus said some in Sardis had “not soiled their garments.” How can this passage in 1 John help us understand what it means to live like that?

• In what ways do you personally need to hear what Jesus said to the church in Sardis?

• How do you think Jesus is calling you to respond to his word this week?

• What are the promises in Jesus’ message to Sardis and how might they encourage your response to Jesus?