The Letter to the Church in Sardis
The letter to the church in Sardis, one of the seven letters to the seven churches Yeshua wrote, was a letter to a dead church. Did anyone hear it then and will anyone hear it today? is the subject of this article.
The heading of the letter to the church in Sardis
And to the messenger of the assembly in Sardis write, ‘He who has the seven Spirits of Elohim and the seven stars, says this, (Rev 3:1) (for the Seven Spirits of Elohim see Isa_11:2) See also Rev_1:4, Rev_4:5, and Rev_5:6.
In the introduction of the letter to the church in Sardis, Yeshua is described in the fullness of the glory of His Father saying, He who has the seven Spirits of Elohim and the seven stars.
In the first article of the series The Seven Letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation,
Yochanan, to the seven assemblies that are in Asia: Favor to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is coming, and from the seven Spirits that are before His throne, (Rev 1:4)
These seven Spirits, Yeshua refers to, must be the spirits (Heb. winds or breaths) of the set-apartness of YHVH in the pattern of the menorah in three pairs of the winds (the central spirit is Ruach HaKodesh itself). We find them in Isa 11:2 thus:
1. the wind of wisdom and understanding,
2. the wind of counsel and might,
3. the wind of knowledge and of the awe of YHVH.
And we studied that these seven spirits cannot be the seven angels in Revelation (who are also spirits) through whom the seven judgments will be brought on the earth, because the seven stars Yochanan saw in Yeshua’s right hand are the seven messengers of the seven churches and the seven golden lampstands (menorahs): are the seven churches. We read,
The secret of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are messengers of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are seven churches. (Rev 1:20)
The letter to the church in Sardis–a letter to a dead church
I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete before Elohim. (Rev 3:2)
In the addresses to the assemblies above Yeshua began with approval, but no such approval, not even a word, is found here: in the letter to Sardis.
We should notice the repetitive phrase I know your works which we find in Rev_2:2 concerning the message to Ephesos, in Rev_2:9 in the message to Smyrna, in Rev_2:13 in the message to Pergamos, and in Rev_2:19 in the message to Thyatira.
In the letter to the church in Sardis we find that the name the assembly in Sardis had, namely that they were alive, was just a façade, a mask, behind which, however, the truth was blatant: they were dead. Yeshua continued in His letter to Sardis with the call to the assembly to wake up from the spiritual death and save what could have been saved, because they were about to die. The reason being is that He had found their works incomplete before the Father.
And when Yeshua says in the letter to the church in Sardis, ‘I know your works’ and further more ‘I have not found your works complete’ we need to ask the question as to what works He was concerned about, because this assembly, apparently, was full of unfulfilled works.
Because if Yeshua had begun His letter to Sardis with, He who has the seven Spirits of Elohim and the seven stars, he must have meant that all authority had been given to Him. And this authority that has been given to Him by none other than Elohim Himself, is represented by the seven Spirits of Elohim: of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, and of knowledge and of awe.
And when Yeshua says that He possesses the seven stars, that is the seven messengers of the seven assemblies, He must have made it clear in the letters to the assemblies we previously studied: to Ephesos, Pergamos, and Thyatira.
The message Yeshua delivered in the letter to the church in Thyatira was this: if the assembly in Thyatira would not repent of their works, His testimony before the Father would throw them out from the whole assembly of the Messiah.
And to the assembly of Ephesos the Messiah warned them He would come speedily and remove their lampstand (assembly) from its place (Rev 2:4-5) and to the assembly of Pergamos that He would fight against them with the sword of His mouth, just like a two-edged sword would cut and divide them from His assembly (Rev 2:16).
Let us recall what was the condition of those congregations at the time of writing of the letters. The Ephesians started their walk in faith well, but their current condition was incomplete. While in Thyatira, they brought forth more good works than at the beginning. From this we concluded that for the Messiah how we finish the race is more important than how we have started.
In the letter to the church in Sardis, however, the Messiah found them dead with incomplete works. In other words, their works were found incomplete because they had already been spiritually dead, that is they had stopped producing good fruits before Him.
Like a thief in the night
We keep on reading.
Remember, then, how you have received, and heard. And watch and repent. If, then, you do not wake up, I shall come upon you as a thief, and you shall not know at all what hour I come upon you. (Rev 3:3)
And after the Messiah had found them spiritually dead, He warned them to watch and repent, because they needed to remember how they had received and how little work they had completed. And when Yeshua warned them to remember that, we need to ask the question as to why it was so important to Him to remind them how they had received and heard. Received and heard what?
In order to find the answer to this question, we need to recall Yeshua’s own words to His disciples:
Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. You have received without paying, give without being paid. Do not acquire gold or silver or copper for your money-belts, or a bag for the journey, or two undergarments, or sandals, or staffs, for the worker is worthy of his food. (Mat 10:8-10)
Is You have received without paying, give without being paid what He meant when he said, ‘Remember, then, how you have received and heard’? This we cannot know with certainty, since His letter to Sardis and to all seven assemblies are very concise. The present author inclines to the understanding that they are connected, and if he is right then we may say that that was the problem in the assembly of Sardis: they were after the money.
And since money corrupts and more money corrupts even more, then we may see what had caused the spiritual death of the church in Sardis: the pursue of money. And most likely Yeshua used those exact words in His letter to the church in Sardis, I shall come upon you as a thief, to make the association with the wealth the congregants in Sardis were after, since it is natural for a thief to steal money.
They should have gotten the message.
For more on this issue of the Church, read the articles: Do not Sell Wisdom, Instruction, and Understanding!, Is There Any Place for Professional Priesthood Today?, and Do not Muzzle an Ox while it is Threshing! Did Paul Claim the Tithes?
The second part of the message is none the less important when Yeshua said that if they would not wake up to His call to watch and repent from the pursue of money, then He would come upon them as a thief, and they would not even know the hour of His coming.
Now, if we turn the negative form of the statement in Rev 3:3 into positive and vice versa on both sides of the if-clause sentence, the meaning of the text will not change (just like in mathematics) and what actually Yeshua is telling us is this:
If, then, you do wake up, I shall not come upon you as a thief, and you shall know at what hour I come upon you.
This is what the present author believes is a hidden message that we can know the hour of His coming, but more arguments on this controversial for many subject can be found in the articles What Time Is It Now On the Creator’s Clock? and The Appointed Times of YHVH: Day of Trumpets and Day of Trumpets and the Messiah.
But suffices for now to read from His Parable of the Fig Tree:
Learn the parable from the fig tree: When you see its branch and leaves sprouting know that he is near to the gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation shall not pass away until all these things shall be done. Heaven and earth shall pass away. But of that day or that time, there is none who knows, not even the angels of heaven, but the Father only. (Mat 24:33-36) Hebrew Gospel of Matthew translated by George Howard
In Rev 3:3 we found the peculiar expression the Messiah used to describe Himself concerning His coming. He said, I shall come upon you as a thief.
What is intriguing though is that we find the same expression in in Rev_16:15.
See, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who is staying awake and guarding his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame. (Rev 16:15)
What has Yeshua meant by that?
In the Temple period, during the night the priest in charge of the night guard of the Temple made his rounds. If he had found the guard sleeping on his watch, the priest lit his garments for his shame. Hence, Yeshua has warned us to be on guard at His coming.
However, not all in Sardis have been found spiritually dead, as we keep on reading from the letter to the church in Sardis. There were a few in Sardis who had not defiled their garments with stains, nor had their garments be set on fire, that is they were found by the Messiah set apart from the temptations of secular world. We read thus,
Nevertheless, you have a few names in Sardis who have not defiled their garments. And they shall walk with Me in white, because they are worthy. (Rev 3:4)
So, amid all iniquities in the church in Sardis, there were a few live souls who fulfilled their works and did not defile their garments. But, they were just a few.
To the rest was another warning of Yeshua,
By their fruits you shall know them. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? So, every good tree yields good fruit, but a rotten tree yields wicked fruit. A good tree is unable to yield wicked fruit, and a rotten tree to yield good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, by their fruits you shall know them – Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Master, Master,’ shall enter into the reign of the heavens, but he who is doing the desire of My Father in the heavens. (Mat 7:16-21)
There is a command in the Torah to wear fringes. The Hebrew word is tsiytsiyt from tsits, the glittering, the bloom or flower, or something flowery or bloom-like, but in Eze_8:3 is used for a lock of hair. And this is exactly how the tsiytsiyt looks like: like a lock of hair.
The function of a blossom was to produce fruit on a tree. And this is the exact function of the tsiytsiyt, to produce fruit within the man. The function of the fringe, according to Num_15:38-40, is to remember the commandments and do them, as Yeshua says by their fruits you shall know them.
And it shall be to you for a tzitzit, and you shall see it, and shall remember all the commands of Yehovah and shall do them, (Num 15:39)
In Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 1:2 we read thus referring to Num 15:39,
Said Rabbi Meir: it does not say, “and you shall see them,” but “and you shall see Him” (the Hebrew Otto, also translates as “him”). This teaches that every one who fulfills the mitzvah of tzitzit, it is as if he has greeted the face of the Divine Presence.
And as we read in the Talmud: The righteous speak little, and do much; the wicked speak much, and do nothing. (b.Bava Metzia 87)
Or, if we read the words of our Messiah,
Bear, therefore, fruits worthy of repentance, (Mat 3:8)
And Yeshua concludes His letter to the church in Sardis that only those who will overcome will not be blotted out from the Book of Life.
He who overcomes shall be dressed in white robes, and I shall by no means blot out his name from the Book of Life, but I shall confess his name before My Father and before His messengers. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. (Rev 3:5-6)
Did anyone in Sardis hear the warning of Yeshua then and will anyone hear it today?
Indeed, how few can say with the Master, “I have finished the work my Master gave me”; and of how few it can be said, as Shaul (Paul) said about himself,
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have guarded the faith. (2Ti 4:7)
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.