Thursday

04 September 2014

“I know your works; you have a name for being alive, but you are dead. Wake up and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God.” (vv. 1-2)


Background

The seven short letters to specific churches found in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 all have the same shape but there are occasional differences. The letter to Sardis differs from the others in that it has the bad news before the good news - Christ's complaint precedes his praise of "a few persons" (v. 4) who are worthy of the promise of eternal life. By contrast the letter to the Philadelphia is the only one of the seven that consists entirely of encouragement with no criticisms made.

Sardis provides a good example of the church mirroring its setting. It was a city that had been glorious as the capital of Lydia six centuries previously but had been in a steady decline for a long time. It also had a mountain-top acropolis thought to be impregnable which had nevertheless twice been taken by stealth. The church's lack of watchfulness, as well as its decline from life towards death, parallel the city's experience. Moreover the references to clothing in verses 4-5 may be deliberately chosen to reflect the role of Sardis as a wool-dying centre.

"Synagogue of Satan" (v. 9) (found also in Revelation 2:9) indicates that the church at Philadelphia finds Jews to be its main opponents. If the Jews were claiming that the Christians had no part in the Messiah and his kingdom then we can see how the letter, including the symbols it uses such as "key of David" (v. 7), "pillar in the temple" and "new Jerusalem" (v. 12), is in the nature of a sustained assurance that they will share fully in the kingdom of Christ.


To Ponder

  • Thinking about today what might be the marks of a church which has a reputation for being alive but is really dead? What steps would it need to take to "wake up and strengthen what remains" (v. 2)?
  • The word "perfect" in verse 2 can also be translated as "complete" and this may make most sense here. The kind of works God wants to see completed, according to Revelation 2:19, are love, faith, service and patient endurance. Which are you striving to bring to completion in yourself?
  • "I am coming soon" (v. 11) was untrue if it referred to the still future coming of Christ. It was probably a promise of something much more immediate to relieve their hardships. In what ways does Christ come when you are facing tough times?


Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Stephen Mosedale

 

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