Seeming Without Being

Wim Malgo (1922-1992)

An interpretation of the last book of the Bible. Part 31. Revelation 3:1-6.

Historically, Sardis was the ancient royal seat of the kingdom of Lydia, with an illustrious past. However, in the Roman era at the time of John, Sardis was a lackluster provincial town, despite its prosperity. Later in Christian times, it attained a certain fame because of Bishop Melito of Sardis, who died in 170 AD. Today, nothing remains of this remarkable city, save some widely scattered rubble heaps with a few huts in between, forming a little Turkish village called Sart. Many decades ago, Gotthilf Heinrich von Schubert (a Christian naturalist) found just two Christians remaining in these huts during his travels. But even when a visible manifestation of the body of  Christ is declining in the local church, as in Sardis, the Church of Jesus still remains. The gates of hell cannot overpower it! The Lord is now addressing the Church of Jesus in this city. What a wonderful thing it is to belong to the Church of Jesus, to be a member of His body! The Church of Jesus stands the test of time. It was there two millennia ago, and is still here today. The same Lord and Savior that spoke to her then is still speaking today.

So, is it praise when the exalted Lord also tells Sardis, “I know thy works”? The fact that He knows everything is a great comfort to those who have reached the end of their own strength. He knows your efforts, and He knows about your misunderstood contributions; everything you’re doing behind the scenes for Jesus’ sake. But these words from the Lord to Sardis aren’t consoling and aren’t meant to be praise, but primarily are a continuation of His self-revelation.

He revealed Himself to the church in Thyatira as the Son of God, with eyes like flames of fire and feet like red hot brass. But He speaks here: “These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars” (v. 1). The seven Spirits of God signify the fullness of the Holy Spirit. The Lord made this fullness known through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah; in Isaiah 11:2, it says that the following will rest upon Him:

1. The spirit of the Lord

2. The spirit of wisdom

3. The spirit of understanding

4. The spirit of counsel

5. The spirit of might

6. The spirit of knowledge

7. The spirit of the fear of the Lord.

Our Lord Jesus has all of this! He has the seven Spirits of God, because “the fullness of the Godhead” dwells bodily in Him (Col 2:9).

We already learned who the seven stars are in Revelation 1:20: seven angels, or leaders of the different churches, who are representative of the entire Church of Jesus. The Lord—who possesses the seven Spirits of God—speaks to Sardis as the Source of all life, while He has the stars—the Church of Jesus—in His hand. It’s as if the Lord—with the seven Spirits of God, the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and the seven stars—wants to communicate in unison that the fullness of regenerating vitality is available to the whole Church. With this, we suddenly realize that “I know thy works” contains neither consolation nor praise. Let’s reread it in this context: “These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars: I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead” (Rev 3:1).

The Lord is speaking here with unprecedented immediacy, unlike the way He addresses the other churches. For example, he tells Pergamos (2:14) and Thyatira (2:20), “I have a few things against thee.” Similarly, He tells Ephesus (2:4), “I have somewhat against thee.” But He directly tells Sardis, “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” This proves that the Lord is speaking about dead works, which we also saw evidence of in Thyatira. Probably the shortest definition of dead works is, seeming without being!

There is the appearance of something, but in reality, nothing’s there. The church in Sardis has a historical Savior, but no current Lord. Otherwise, things would be very different. After a lively beginning, apathy set in. What’s striking is that the devil is leaving this church alone, unlike the others. Satan isn’t mentioned at all. There is no heresy in Sardis, no zealotry, no false prophets; there is also no suffering or tribulation. Why? Simply put, the church is dead!

It goes without saying that it is dead in the eyes of the Lord, because from the outside, it has the name of being a living church. Everything seems fine. That the church “has a name” of being alive means two things: not only that it’s lacking something, but also that it’s claiming to have something that isn’t there. The essential thing is missing: life from God. The Lord’s statement, “thou hast a name that thou livest,” shows that Sardis was a church with a good reputation. But that reputation was deceptive, just as Smyrna’s reputation was deceptive in the opposite sense. The Lord says that the church in Smyrna is looked upon as poor, but in essence is rich. So, their reputation for poverty was deceiving, for she was rich in the Lord. But here with Sardis, the opposite is true.

Midnight Call - 08/2022

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