The Purpose of the Letter to Sardis

Wim Malgo (1922-1992)

An interpretation of the last book of the Bible. Part 32. Revelation 3:1-6.

In the Old Testament, people were given names that were a reflection of their nature, their character, or their mission. For example, Israel was called “prince of God”; Eve was called “the mother of all living,” etc. The name Sardis (“escaping”) indicates a church that has escaped from the world, but in appearance only. If we belong to the Church of Jesus, then our name (the designation “church,” “assembly,” “fellowship,” etc.) communicates that we are both a fountain of living water and a spiritual stronghold against all Satanic powers. The church in Sardis appeared to be these things, and yet they were dead. How terrible!

This is also our current plight. The big lie has numbed many “Sardis Christians.” If you pretend something is true for long enough, or keep repeating a lie, you start believing it’s true. And then you don’t respond to the preaching of the Word or spiritual rebuke, assuming that it can’t possibly apply to you. This kind of person is very sure of their standing, in the same way that a dead man doesn’t react when touched or even pushed. “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.”

But it’s even more moving that the Lord Jesus Christ—who is life itself—confronts this dead and stiffened church as the Lord in whom dwells the fullness of the Spirit. This is how He meets us. He also approaches Israel in the same way, because they are still spiritually dead. Ezekiel 37:9b says, “Come from the four winds, O breath [Spirit], and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” That is the intention of the exalted Lord for Israel and for us: that the dead would awaken to new life.

This concept has a wonderful parallel passage in Ephesians 5:14, where the Lord says through Paul, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” So, the intent of the letter to Sardis is to bring the dead back to life. “Strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die” (Rev 3:2a). It’s clear that the Lord means spiritual death.

Everyone who is born again to a living hope and belongs to the Church of Jesus, is called to reveal life. But for many of us, our true condition is in conflict with the very essence that is life. We often flicker instead of beam, causing people to crash into the rocks instead of finding the safe haven of salvation. People get confused about our nature because the Lord Jesus’ gentleness, humility, and clarity aren’t visible, but rather our opinionated, ambitious, proud selves.

The church in Sardis was apparently unaware of the big lie they were living, just as many people now don’t know that their life of faith is an illusion and thus a lie. Israel is one step ahead of us in its self-awareness here, as Ezekiel 37:11b records: “Behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts.” This is saving self-knowledge; it means, in other words, “We who were redeemed by the blood of the Lamb from Egypt are lost; it’s over for us.”

The Lord builds on this self-awareness and begins to bring Israel back to life through the Spirit of life from above. Until we know we’re at rock bottom, the Lord cannot give us life. But whoever confesses, “I have a name that I live, but am dead,” and lowers himself and struggles to enter through the narrow gate, receives eternal life.

Midnight Call - 09/2022

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