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“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These things said He that has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars: I know your works, that you have a name that you are live, but you are dead.   Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God” (Revelation 3:1,2).  

The message to the church of Sardis is perhaps the harshest rebuke of all.  Except for the “few names…who have not defiled their garments” (v.4), the Lord has nothing to commend them—even that which they have is “ready to die.” Worst of all they “have a name” of being alive, but are actually “dead.”  The strangest thing is that historically Sardis represents the period just following the Protestant Reformation, which brought a tremendous increase in spiritual light, whereas in the previous “Thyatira” period, which represents the darkness of medieval Europe, the church was highly commended.

As we saw in chapter two, the Thyatira Church that was commended was the underground church, the “remnant,” which rejected the false doctrines and illicit political relationships[1] that characterized “Jezebel,” the official papal church.  Although at first she “allowed” (did not actively work to counteract) the misrepresentation of Christ, her “last works [were] more than the first.” By the time of the reformers she was aggressively protesting against the abuses of the state church, spreading the true gospel throughout Europe and presenting a radically different model of  Christianity.

In the Sardis period the papacy ("Jezebel") is not part of the description, having been rejected by the Protestant ("remnant") churches.  The formerly underground church has now become “official”, but tragically God says that now she is dead. But that’s not all the bad news.  In the Thyatira/medieval period there was a remnant that remained faithful and was the hope for keeping the gospel message alive. Now the remnant[2] (the phrase “the things which remain” is the same Greek word for remnant that is used in Revelation 2:24 and 12:17) is itself ready to die”.  This desperate situation is what calls forth the harshest rebuke of all the seven churches— now there are only “a few names” to be witnesses for the “truth as it is in Jesus.” This characterization of a dead official Church and a dying Remnant describes  the tragic history of the Protestant churches after the Reformation.[3]


[1]  Revelation 17:2

[2]  The phrase "the things which remain" (Revelation 3:2) is the same Greek word for renant that is used in Revelation 2:24 and 12:17.

[3]  The Eastern Orthodox Church was also “dead” during this period.  Constantinople, the capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire, was defeated by the Turks in 1453.  Under Turkish rule the Orthodox Church was not only a legal entity, but also the political representative of the defeated Greeks. “The Muslims drew no distinction between religion and politics…The Orthodox Church therefore became a civil as well as a religious institution…The ecclesiastical structure became an instrument of secular administration…Church administration became caught up in a degrading system of corruption and simony…What was once said of the Papacy was certainly true of the Ecumenical Patriarchate under the Turks: everything was for sale”  Ware, The Orthodox Church , Penguin Books, 1997.

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