Sardis was a fortress city. It was surrounded on 3 sides by extremely steep cliffs. As a result, it was considered to be so impenetrable that “to capture the acropolis of Sardis” became a euphemism for achieving something impossible.
In the 5th century BC Cyrus king of Persia caught Sardis’ army by surprise and besieged the city. Even after this the people of Sardis believed they were safe but on the 14th day of this siege a few Persian troops claimed the cliff where no man was stationed because the cliff was so steep, and they thought it to be impenetrable there. But their lack of vigilance to an area they thought needed no attention was the downfall of Sardis at this time.
In AD 17 an earthquake ripped apart Sardis and brought sudden destruction to the city once again.
Just prior to John’s day Sardis was a city of wealth and security once again but Jesus and John use their history of being overtaken or sudden destruction to talk about spiritual matters in the church
Description of Jesus
Isaiah 11:1-2, Enoch 61:11, Psalms of Solomon 17:37
It’s about the fruit the Holy Spirit produces. The idea is that this spiritual fruit is rooted in Jesus and resembles Jesus’ life.
The big thing about Jesus’ description that is important for Sardis to notice is that It’s spiritual in nature. Sardis is said to have an appearance of being alive on the outside but are actually dead or dying spiritually
Alive but dead
Sardis had the reputation (a name) to those in the community of being alive, but Jesus says they are actually dead. They are playing church
Col 1:9-10- Bearing fruit, growing in the knowledge of God
Strengthen what remains
Jesus tell the church to “wake up”. Which is better translated as “be watchful”, echoing the story of the defeat of Sardis we mentioned earlier where they were lax in their protection of the city.
Sardis is similar to the Pharisees in Matt 23:25
If they do not repent Jesus is coming to them like a thief in the night
Jesus attributes this coming to being a thief in the night here as well. The message is that is Sardis doesn’t “strengthen what remains” and “be watchful” (of their spiritual state) their lamp-stand will be removed and not be counted as a faithful witness. They will be overtaken like the acropolis of Sardis was in the past.
Jesus mentions that there are some that are faithful in this church. Not all are spiritually dead. They are the remnant. Soiled garments is usually a way of talking about impurity by being stained by sin or the world (Jude 22)
“they walk with me in white, for they are worthy”- This has echoes of Eden and walking with God in the garden.
Jesus gives 2 rewards to the conquerors- White garments and their name not erased from the book of life