Sardis was about 40 miles (60 kilometres) south of Thyatira. The Christians in the other churches believed that the church in Sardis was doing well. Perhaps the church members at Sardis believed that too. However, Christ knew the truth about that church.
Christ describes himself as the one who has the 7 spirits of God (1:4; 4:5). That seems to be a description of the Holy Spirit. It may be a reference to Isaiah 11:2-3, which gives a list of the many qualities of the Holy Spirit. Or, it may remind us that Christ alone has the Spirit without limit (John 3:34; Colossians 2:9). The number 7 is sometimes a word-picture in the Bible for something that is complete or perfect.
It is the Spirit that gives life. That was what the church at Sardis needed. Christ considered it dead, or almost dead.
Christ also refers to the 7 stars. That seems to mean the leaders of the 7 churches (see my note on Revelation 1:20). They had the responsibility for what happened in each church. At Sardis, nothing worthwhile was happening. There were probably plenty of meetings and plenty of activities; but the members were not allowing the Holy Spirit to do his work there. The Holy Spirit was neither active in their church nor present in their lives.
We search for an explanation. The dirty clothes in verse 4 is a frequent word-picture in the Bible for sin (evil deeds). Clearly, these were secret sins; Christians elsewhere did not know about these things. God had not yet forgiven these sins; the church members at Sardis were not ready for Christ to come to them (verse 3). In addition, unlike the people in verse 4, Christ did not recognise their names. Their names were on the list of church members, but not on Christís list that records the names of real Christians (verse 5).
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© 2016, Keith Simons.