The Epistle to the Church at Sardis
The contents of the epistle to the church at Sardis Revelation 3:1-6 are:
(1)The usual salutation to the angel of the church, Revelation 3:1.
(2)The usual reference to the attributes of the Saviour - those referred to here being that he had the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars, Revelation 3:1.
(3)The assurance that he knew their works, Revelation 3:1.
(4)The statement of the uniqueness of the church, or what he saw in it - that it had a name to live and was dead, Revelation 3:1.
(5)A solemn direction to the members of the church, arising from their character and circumstances, to be watchful, and to strengthen the things which remained, but which were ready to die; to remember what they had received, and to hold fast what had been communicated to them, and to repent of all their sins, Revelation 3:2-3.
(6)A threat that if they did not do this, he would come suddenly upon them, at an hour which they could not anticipate, Revelation 3:3.
(7)A commendation of the church as far as it could be done, for there were still a few among them who had not defiled their garments, and a promise that they should walk before him in white, Revelation 3:4.
(8)A promise, as usual, to him that should be victorious. The promise here is, that he should walk before him in white; that his name should not be blotted out of the book of life; that he should be acknowledged before the Father, and before the angels, Revelation 3:5.
(9)The usual call on all persons to hear what the Spirit said to the churches.
Sardis was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia, one of the provinces of Asia Minor, and was situated at the foot of Mount Tmolus, in a fine plain watered by the river Pactolus, famous for its golden sands. It was the capital where the celebrated Croesus, proverbial for his wealth, reigned. It was taken by Cyrus (548 BC), when Croesus was king, and was at that time one of the most splendid and opulent cities of the East. It subsequently passed into the hands of the Romans, and under them sank rapidly in wealth and importance. In the time of Tiberius it was destroyed by an earthquake, but was rebuilt by order of the emperor. The inhabitants of Sardis bore an ill repute among the ancients for their voluptuous modes of life. Perhaps there may be an allusion to this fact in the words which are used in the address to the church there: "Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments."
Successive earthquakes, and the ravages of the Saracens and the Turks, have reduced this once-celebrated city to a heap of ruins, though exhibiting still many remains of former splendor. The name of the village which now occupies the place of this ancient capital is Sart. It is a miserable village, comprising only a few wretched cottages, occupied by Turks and Greeks. There are ruins of the theater, the stadium, and of some ancient churches. The most remarkable of the ruins are two pillars supposed to have belonged to the temple of Cybele; and if so, they are among the most ancient in the world, the temple of Cybele having been built only three hundred years after that of Solomon. The Acropolis serves well to define the site of the city. Several travelers have recently visited the remains of Sardis, and its appearance will be indicated by a few extracts from their writings. Arundell, in his "Discoveries in Asia Minor," says: "If I were asked what impresses the mind most strongly in beholding Sardis, I should say its indescribable solitude, like the darkness of Egypt - darkness that could be felt. So the deep solitude of the spot, once the ' lady of kingdoms,' produces a corresponding feeling of desolate abandonment in the mind, which can never be forgotten."
John Hartley, in regard to these ruins, remarks: "The ruins are, with one exception, more entirely gone to decay than those of most of the ancient cities which we have visited. No Christians reside on the spot: two Greeks only work in a mill here, and a few wretched Turkish huts are scattered among the ruins. We saw the churches of John and the Virgin, the theater, and the building styled the Palace of Croesus; but the most striking object at Sardis is the temple of Cybele. I was filled with wonder and awe at beholding the two stupendous columns of this edifice, which are still remaining: they are silent but impressive witnesses of the power and splendor of antiquity."
The impression produced on the mind is vividly described in the following language of a recent traveler, who lodged there for a night: "Every object was as distinct as in a northern twilight; the snowy summit of the mountain (Tmolus), the long sweep of the valley, and the flashing current of the river (Pactolus). I strolled along toward the banks of the Pactolus, and seated myself by the side of the half-exhausted stream.
"There are few individuals who cannot trace on the map of their memory some moments of overpowering emotion, and some scene, which, once dwelt upon, has become its own painter, and left behind it a memorial that time could not efface. I can readily sympathize with the feelings of him who wept at the base of the pyramids; nor were my own less powerful, on that night when I sat beneath the sky of Asia to gaze upon the ruins of Sardis, from the banks of the golden-sanded Pactolus. Beside me were the cliffs of the Acropolis, which, centuries before, the hardy Median scaled, while leading on the conquering Persians, whose tents had covered the very spot on which I was reclining. Before me were the vestiges of what had been the palace of the gorgeous Croesus; within its walls were once congregated the wisest of mankind, Thales, Cleobulus, and Solon. It was here that the wretched father mourned alone the mangled corse of his beloved Atys; it was here that the same humiliated monarch wept at the feet of the Persian boy who wrung from him his kingdom. Far in the distance were the gigantic "tumuli" of the Lydian monarchs, Candaules, Halyattys, and Gyges; and around them were spread those very plains once trodden by the countless hosts of Xerxes, when hurrying on to find a sepulchre at Marathon.
"There were more varied and more vivid remembrances associated with the sight of Sardis than could possibly be attached to any other spot of earth; but all were mingled with a feeling of disgust at the littleness of human glory. All - all had passed away! There were before me the fanes of a dead religion, the tombs of forgotten monarchs, and the palm-tree that waved in the banquet-hall of kings; while the feeling of desolation was doubly heightened by the calm sweet sky above me, which, in its unfading brightness, shone as purely now as when it beamed upon the golden dreams of Croesus" (Emerson' s "Letters from the Aegean," p. 113ff). The present appearance of the ruins is shown by the engraving in this volume.
And unto the angel of the church in Sardis - notes on Revelation 1:20.
These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God - See the notes on Revelation 1:4. If the phrase, "the seven Spirits of God," as there supposed, refers to the Holy Spirit, there is great propriety in saying of the Saviour, that he has that Spirit, inasmuch as the Holy Spirit is represented as sent forth by him into the world, John 15:26-27; John 16:7, John 16:13-14. It was one of the highest characteristics that could be given of the Saviour to say, that the Holy Spirit was his to send forth into the world, and that that great Agent, on whose gracious influences all were dependent for the possession of true religion, could be given or withheld by him at his pleasure.
And the seven stars - See the notes on Revelation 1:16. These represented the angels of the seven churches (notes on Revelation 1:20); and the idea which the Saviour would seem to intend to convey here is, that he had entire control over the ministers of the churches, and could keep or remove them at pleasure.
I know thy works - See the notes on Revelation 2:2.
That thou hast a name that thou livest - Thou dost profess attachment to me and my cause. The word "life" is a word that is commonly employed, in the New Testament, to denote religion, in contradistinction from the natural state of man, which is described as death in sin. By the profession of religion they expressed the purpose to live unto God, and for another world; they professed to have true, spiritual life.
And art dead - That is, spiritually. This is equivalent to saying that their profession was merely in name; and yet this must be understood comparatively, for there were some even in Sardis who truly lived unto God, Revelation 3:4. The meaning is, that in general, the profession of religion among them was a mere name. The Saviour does not, as in the case of the churches of Ephesus and Thyatira, specify any prevailing form of error or false doctrine; but it would seem that here it was a simple waist of religion.
Other Barnes' Notes entries containing Revelation 3:1:
3 John 1:1
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