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Revelation 3:1-6

“To the angel of the church in Sardis …”

“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

“Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.”

(verses 1-4)


Sardis was a city of wealth, but also security, having seemingly unbreachable defenses. It was perched high on very steep hills, making approach to the city by enemies entirely difficult. But the city’s sense of security bred complacency, and in the centuries before the time of Christ it had been invaded and sacked twice by enemy forces that snuck upon them in the dark of night. The city had posted no watchmen and so was overwhelmed.

That sense of complacency seems to have attached itself to the church which was now planted there. No mention is made here of persecution from the world around or false teaching arising from within. The church seems to have had it relatively easy. Perhaps this had lulled them into drowsy slumber.

The Lord is abruptly direct in his rebuke. There are no preliminary words of encouragement here – he cuts directly to the chase. “You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” The harshness of these words reminds me of Jesus’ response to the fig tree that he cursed en route into Jerusalem. It happened on the morning after the clearing of the temple. Jesus was hungry and had spotted the fig tree in full leaf, the typical sign that fruit was already developing. It was early in the season, so the figs would be somewhat green, but entirely edible. Yet when Jesus got to the tree, he discovered it was all false advertising – the tree was full of leaves with not a single fig anywhere in sight. His immediate cursing of the fig tree is a comment on the seriousness of hypocrisy and complacency and unfruitfulness.

Graciously, judgement is not immediate for the church at Sardis. The Lord warns them with the strong imperative, “Wake up!” The tense is actually present continuous, yielding the translation: “Become watchful!” Yes, there needs to be an abrupt change in their posture. But more than that, watchfulness is to be an ongoing stance for their life of discipleship. Unlike the historical slackness of the city of Sardis itself, the church is meant to stay on its toes, being eagerly alert and actively engaged in its commitment to the Lord, such that he will find their “deeds complete in the sight of … God.”

But if they don’t, the judgement of the Lord himself will sneak up on them, like a thief in the night – like the enemies of Sardis in years past.

It's a cautionary warning. Complacency is such an easy posture, especially for the western church which experiences relatively little opposition or real persecution from the world around. Oh yes, there are skirmishes, but the tensions experienced by many of these early congregations (and by our sisters and brothers in other parts of the world) are not currently our lot. The danger is that we grow comfortable and spiritually sleepy.

So, hear the Lord’s wake up call to the Sardis church: “Become watchful!” Shake off complacency. Press into discipleship. Follow Jesus closely. Complete the deeds he has set before us. The specifics will become clear as we keep our eyes on him, that we might “walk with (him), dressed in white.”


Sovereign Lord, I hear your call for watchfulness – I submit myself to your waking-activity in my life. Shake off my sleep. Focus my heart to follow you closely. Strengthen my hands with devotion to complete each deed you set before me. I want to walk with you, dressed in your righteousness, in the power of your Spirit.



Where in your own walk with Jesus do you need to shake off drowsiness and become watchful? Ask him for insight. Make choices to respond.


Photo by Eduardo Flores on Unsplash

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