Sardis; The Sufficient Christ and Holy Spirit
Revelation 3:1: "To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead."
There are four things that are packed into that verse. It orients us to this fifth letter to the seven churches. It tells us that this particular one is addressed to the church in Sardis and it is particularly interesting how the history of the background of the church in Sardis has bearing on the spiritual condition of the church that is in this city of Sardis. It also relates to certain characteristics of the Lord Jesus Christ as exemplified in the statement, "him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars." Then there is the first part of the condemnation of the church at Sardis. This is one of two churches that has no statement of commendation.
The church at Sardis is the fifth of these seven letters written to seven congregations that are located in the western part of Turkey in the province of Asia-Minor. These churches are fairly close together and Sardis is only 40-50 miles away from its neighbours, so the basic culture in each of these cities is very similar. Each of these congregations have a tremendous amount in common, but what these evaluation statements are doing is highlighting basic trends—some negative; some positive—and they are used as patterns and models for all congregations, the trends that dominate through the church age. So it gives us as believers in the 21st century and opportunity to look at the kinds of things that the Lord Jesus Christ will highlight and emphasize and bring out at the judgment seat of Christ, and eventually we are going to all be standing before the Lord Jesus Christ at that judgment seat.
Sardis was a city that had had a glorious past with tremendous achievements but it had a tragic flaw throughout the centuries in that they tended to rest their security in things that could not give them true security. They tended to rest and live on past achievements and past glories so that they did not look on the present conditions with truly objective eyes. It is this characteristic of the people of Sardis that also characterizes the church. This is a church that at one time had a tremendous reputation and was filled will vibrant, positive, growing believers who were involved in missions, in evangelism, in studying the Word and growing spiritually. But that wasn't true any more. They were resting on their past achievements, just coasting in their spiritual life, and the coasting had taken them into a compromise with the world system around them so that they looked one way but the reality was that on the inside they were in carnal death and there was no positive production there. So this is the first of two evaluation reports where the Lord Jesus Christ says nothing positive about the congregation.
In terms of religious background for Sardis, the chief deity for worship was Artemis. It was Artemis of the Ephesians and the worship of Artemis of the Ephesians that the silver smiths who were creating and seeling these figurines of Artemis as a major business. Thousands of pilgrims would come to Ephesus in order to go to the temple of Artemis. But when Paul came there in Acts chapters 18 & 19 and started proclaiming the gospel, and people converted to Christianity by the hundreds it threatened the business of these silver smiths. That is how we know that he had such a tremendous response. He didn't just lead 20 or 30 or 100 people to Christ, that wouldn't have impacted their business that much; he led so many people to the Lord that it was impacting the business of these silver smiths so much that they were being run out of business. So they started stirring up trouble and there was this huge riot in Ephesus at that time. This is the same Artemis.
The first statement in Revelation 3:1 is not part of that vision back in 1:4. We are told: "These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God." Cf. 1:4: "John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come..." That threefold ascription is a reference to God the Father. "…and from the seven spirits before his throne." In the book of Revelation the only one who has a throne is God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ doesn't take the throne of David until He returns at the Second Coming at the end of Revelation chapter nineteen. Then there is a reference to the Holy Spirit as "the seven spirits who are before his throne." So the statement in Revelation 3:1, the one "who has the seven spirits of God," is a reference relating the Holy Spirit, not to God the Father but to the Lords Jesus Christ. The verb here is the simple verb ECHO [e)xw] which means to have or to hold something, and it is not nearly as strong as the phrase in Revelation 2:1 in the letter to the Ephesians where we read: "him who holds the seven stars in his right hand." Here is 3:1 He has the seven spirits and He has the seven stars. It is not as strong a term as holding, so why does the author shift from KRATEO [kratew] there for holding, which has to do with power and authority, to just the verb "have." He is emphasizing something different, he is not just emphasizing the sovereign control of the Lord Jesus Christ over the local churches, he is indicating that it is the Lords Jesus Christ who has these things and the emphasis here is that the source of the Holy Spirit and the source of the churches is from the Lord Jesus Christ.
As we look at this phrase "seven spirits" there is always an attempt to try to identify this with a verse in Isaiah 11:2: "The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him." The "him" there is the Messiah. This is a verse that emphasizes the indwelling and the filling ministry of God the Holy Spirit to the Lord Jesus Christ during the period of the first advent. It is a prophetic passage indicating that when the Messiah comes the empowerment for Him will come from the Spirit of the Lord. "…the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD"—six in all. There are many commentaries say this verse in Revelation is a reference to Isaiah 11:2 and the power of the Holy Spirit who empowered the Lord Jesus Christ. The problem is that in both in the Revelation 1:4 passage, the 3:1 passage, and later Revelation 5:6 passage all talk about seven. How do we get seven out of six? You don't. So where do we go to understand this imagery of the seven spirits of God. It has to be in the Old Testament. The clue is to go to the next reference in Revelation which is 5:6. There John is having this vision where he is seeing into the throne room of God. He writes: "Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne [of God the Father], encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth." Here we have the Messiah who is not on the throne but is standing before the throne. Interesting imagery: the Lamb has seven horns and seven eyes. So this is using symbolic language to refer to a literal character quality that is possessed by the Lord Jesus Christ. The eyes are used symbolically in Scripture to refer to knowledge and wisdom. So where do we go to find out what this symbolism means?
In Zechariah 4:1-10 we have the vision of the lampstand and olive trees. In this ongoing empowerment of the lampstand the oil is a picture of God the Holy Spirit's ongoing ministry; that it is not by human power, nor by human might, but it is by God the Holy Spirit that Israel is going to be restored to the land, that the temple is going to be rebuilt. This is a word of comfort to Zechariah in the midst of the attempt to rebuild the temple and the struggles that they were going through at that time. In verse 7 the mountain represents the difficulty of the task of rebuilding the temple. Verses 9, 10: ""The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you. Who despises the day of small things? Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. "(These seven are the eyes of the LORD, which range throughout the earth.)" So this ties this phrase "the eyes of the Lord" to the Holy Spirit who is represented by this vision of the lampstand. So here is a connection between the Holy Spirit and the eyes of the Lord. So when we come back to Revelation 3:1 and these other passages what we see is that the "seven spirits of God" is an idiom for the power of God the Holy Spirit in human history. That is what this is picturing and it is related to the knowledge of God. Si we then have to ask what is being emphasized in Revelation 3:1.
The letter to Sardis is a letter that outlines all these problems that they had because they had failed to implement God's plan for the spiritual life in the life of the church. As a result, rather than being the spiritual success that they had once been they are now in spiritual failure, as we will see by the last phrase in the verse. The picture here is of Jesus Christ who on the one hand has the seven spirits of God, emphasizing omniscience and knowing everything there is to know about that congregation, and also His control and provision of God the Holy Spirit to the church. He has the solution to their problem, and that solution comes through the ministry of God the Holy Spirit.
Recording ended prematurely…