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The Church of Sardis

By Greg Rangel 

And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write…” (Revelation 3:1).

The next church that Jesus begins to address is the church that was in Sardis. The city of Sardis was founded around 1200 B.C., and had been one of the greatest cities in the ancient world. It was located somewhere around 30 miles from the city of Thyatira, and about fifty miles east of the city of Ephesus at the junction of five main roads.

Because of its location, the city was a perfect city in almost every way, or so they thought. Because five main roads led to the city, Sardis was a center for trade. It was known for wool production and the garment industry. Also, much of its wealth came from gold which was taken from the nearby Pactolus River.

Sardis was also an ideal spot to retreat to when the enemy was around them. Because of its location, Sardis was also used as a military center.  It was situated in the middle of the Hermus valley, and at the foot of Mount Tmolus.

The city stood some 1500 feet above the valley floor, which was surrounded on three sides by hills that had perpendicular rock walls, that is, extremely steep rocks that were standing upright. So the city was only accessible through one side.

Its seemingly impregnable location caused the inhabitants of Sardis to become overconfident. That complacency eventually led to the city’s downfall. Through carelessness, the unimaginable happened. Sardis was conquered.

Dr. Robert L. Thomas in his Exegetical Commentary relates the account of Sardis’ fall: “Despite an alleged warning against self-satisfaction by the Greek god whom he consulted, Croesus the king of Lydia initiated an attack against Cyrus king of Persia, but was soundly defeated. Returning to Sardis to recoup and rebuild his army for another attack, he was pursued quickly by Cyrus who laid siege against Sardis. Croesus felt utterly secure in his impregnable situation atop the acropolis and foresaw an easy victory over the Persians who were cornered among the perpendiculars rocks in the lower city, an easy prey for the assembling Lydian army to crush. After retiring one evening while the drama was unfolding, he awakened to discover that the Persians had gained control of the acropolis by scaling one-by-one the steep walls (549 B.C.). So secure did the Sardians feel that they left this means of access completely unguarded, permitting the climbers to ascend unobserved. It is said that even a child could have defended the city from this kind of attack, but not so much as one observer had been appointed to watch the side that was believed to be inaccessible. History repeated itself more than three and a half centuries later when Antiochus the great conquered Sardis by utilizing the services of a sure-footed mountain climber from Crete (195 B.C.). His army entered the city by another route while the defenders in careless confidence were content to guard the one known approach, the isthmus of land connected to Mount Tmolus on the south” (Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary, Chicago: Moody, 1992, pg. 241).

 The city of Sardis never regained its independence, and it eventually came under the control of the Roman’s in 133 B.C. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in 17 A.D., but was rebuilt by Emperor Tiberius. Because of that, the inhabitants of Sardis built a temple in the honor of Emperor Tiberius.

Apart from worshipping emperor, Sardis also worshiped the goddess Cybele, also known as the goddess Artemis and Diana of the Ephesians. But the city was still just like any other city that worshiped other pagan gods.

The city’s used to boast about its glory and splendor, at least the glory and splendor that it used to have. It used to boast about its rich history. But unfortunately that glory and splendor was something of the past that had already faded. It was like the stars that die, but because of its distance, we are still able to see the light years after its dead.

That it in itself is the message from the Lord Jesus to the church of Sardis. The church had already plunged into darkness for some time now, but it was still saying that it was alive.

The seven churches are messages that are very relevant for us today. The Lord has chosen these specific churches because any condition that exists in them will exist throughout every church throughout the age.

Greg Rangel
Borderland Calvary Chapel

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