The Seven Churches, Part VII : The Church of Sardis

Revelation 1:3 says, “Blessed [is] he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time [is] near.” The Bible says that there is a special blessing for those who read the words of Revelation. The Bible’s blessings are not like a salutation that we may put in a letter or like saying “blessings on you” when someone sneezes or saying “good luck” to someone. When God gives blessings, they are real, tangible blessings.

When He gave the Sabbath, He blessed it. We are accustomed to the simple, meaningless blessings from mankind, but when God blesses something, there is meaning in it. His blessing on the Sabbath means that we can learn things out of God’s Word, as we worship and study on that day, that we cannot learn were we worshipping Him on any other day. It is that simple. There is a blessing on the Sabbath that is not given on any other day.

People can be saved who are living up to all the light they know and who have never heard of the Sabbath, but they still are missing the blessing. There is a blessing on the Sabbath. God blesses people. He loves people. There is a blessing on the Sabbath that will never be found on any other day of the week. It matters not how sincere a person is or if he or she is saved.

When we begin reading the Book of Revelation, it says that there is a blessing in the reading of it. There is life in the reading of Revelation, but not only in the reading. “Blessed are those who read and hear and keep.” Do you suppose that we can hear the Word without keeping it and end up with at least half a blessing? No, it does not work that way. It is like a man and a woman. Both of them are blessed with the ability to create, but alone they cannot create half a being, can they? It takes both to create a whole being. So it is here; there is no half blessing in hearing only. It has got to be the whole thing in order to receive the blessing. That is the message of Sardis. The church of Sardis was especially adept at hearing without doing. That is why they did not receive a full blessing. In fact, they did not receive any blessing at all.

A Review

Before going any farther, perhaps a little review would be helpful. Revelation was written as a blessing—if people read it. What was it that God gave at the very beginning of the Book of Revelation that was to be a blessing to mankind? It says, “I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” You see, there is a blessing! John was keeping the Lord’s Day, and that is when Jesus came down and communicated with him. There is a blessing in the keeping of the Sabbath, and on the Sabbath Day—the Lord’s Day—John had a vision. “And I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,’ and, ‘What you see, write in a book and send [it] to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.’ ” Verses 9–11.

These seven churches represent seven different periods of the earth’s history—the seven periods of the Christian church from Jesus’ day to the end of time. God, as He is so skillful in doing, has here used illustrations. I guess we are all of kindergarten maturity when it comes to our understanding of truth, so God has to keep drawing simple illustrations for us. Old Babylon became illustrative of the churches in the end of time. When we read, in Revelation 18:2, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen,” God is using an example from old Babylon to illustrate the last days. Revelation 16:12 refers to the drying up of the river Euphrates. That is an illustration from old Babylon.

All through Revelation, God uses illustrations, as He is doing when He speaks of the seven churches. God chose seven different, real, literal, tangible churches that were meeting every Sabbath morning. Each of them had special problems or special attributes—one or the other. He picked out seven churches to represent the different periods of earth’s history. As you can see, all of these counsels applied to one or another of these churches, just as all of these counsels apply to different churches today. There may be a church that more closely represents one than another, but in general, each church in a special way represented a special era of Christian history.


Ephesus was the church the apostles started. It lasted from the time of Jesus’ ascension until the apostles died. They were a faithful church, faithful to the gospel. They were a hardworking church, but the Bible says they were lacking their first love. The Bible tells us that even if you have all faith and all knowledge and even if you give your body to be burned, but do not have love, it will profit you nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2, 3.) God says, “You have all these things, but because you do not have love—the first love, My love—and have not made Me first in your life and in your affections, your candlestick will be removed.” (Revelation 2:1–5.)


Then we come to the church of Smyrna. This is the church that existed during the pagan persecution. It continued to the time when Constantine was “converted,” in the early part of the fourth century. That is when Constantine became kind, even though he was not truly converted. The church of Smyrna existed during an age when thousands of Christians were persecuted and lost their lives. The ones who were not killed had their goods confiscated. They were poor, dirt poor. They had nothing—any legal property—for it was all taken from them. The Bible says, “You think you are poor, but actually you are rich.” (Revelation 2:9.) You see, they were poor for only a few short years while on this earth, compared to the riches of eternity.


The church of Pergamos, which was the compromising church, followed the church of Smyrna. That was the time when the church became popular, which is a danger. If a persecuted church suddenly becomes popular, that is one of the greatest temptations that can happen. If Steps to Life suddenly became extremely popular with the conference—which probably will not happen—do you suppose there would be a temptation to compromise a little bit here or there in order to retain that favor? That is what we see happening with the church of Pergamos.

The church had been extremely unpopular; people would spit on Christians. Then the emperor became a Christian! Suddenly it was popular to be a Christian; everyone wanted to be a Christian. Do you suppose there was a little temptation to want to hold on to those good public relations for a little while? I want to tell you, the church began to slide, and it never stopped sliding.

The church promoted worship on Sunday and the wearing of clerical vestments, and the people started to wear the clothing styles of the world that they had not before worn. One thing after another began to happen after they first compromised until—believe it or not, and totally beyond the wildest imagination of the people—they not only were worshipping on the pagan day of the sun and believing in various pagan customs, allowing their children to celebrate Easter bunnies and Easter eggs and those kinds of things, but they began worshipping idols in the church. They changed the names of the idols to St. Peter, St. Mary, or St. Somebody Else, but the church came to a place where they were worshipping idols. Of course, they did not like the word idols, so they called them images or statues or whatever else. I remember hearing a saying once: “A rose by any other name is still a rose.” That is right! I want to tell you, an idol by any other name is still an idol!

The church even came to the place where—and this was straight from paganism—they began to pray to the dead. God condemned this act so straightly in the Old Testament. He said, “If anyone communicates with the dead and prays to the dead, they are to be stoned and killed.” (See Leviticus 20:27.) That is from the devil, straight from hell. We are to pray to God. When praying to the dead came into the church, they decided to make it “kosher.” The people called the dead, to whom they prayed, saints, but whatever you call them, “A rose by any other name is still a rose.” A dead person by any other name is still a dead person. The church began praying to the dead. That was a compromising church.


God had little good to say about the church of Pergamos, but an even worse church followed it. The church of Thyatira, the church of Jezebel, was the church during the Dark Ages from a.d. 538 until about the Protestant Reformation, when the church was united with the world, even legally. During this time, there was a union of church and state, and the Christian church persecuted people for trying to practice their faith. When the church itself begins to persecute, that is a very serious situation.


That brings us to Sardis, the church that we are now studying. Sardis was the church of the Protestant Reformation—those stalwart men and women who stood up and said, “We will die rather than sacrifice our faith.” During that time, people died and were burned at the stake for owning a Bible and for believing it.

We can expect to hear many good things about the church during the Sardis era. We think of those great men, such as Martin Luther, who were willing to stand against all the forces of medieval bigotry and the perverted religion that had overtaken the world. We think of Zwingli, Melancthon, Calvin, Knox, and Tyndale.

Many men gave their lives for the Lord. The favorite method of torture for these Protestant heretics was burning at the stake. These stalwart men of the cross changed the face of Europe and impacted history and our lives. It was the principles of these Protestant reformers that were incorporated into the United States’ Bill of Rights, guaranteeing liberty and the separation of church and state.

So, we expect to hear many wonderful things about the church of Sardis, but what a surprise! What a shock to find that the very time we expect to hear the greatest blessing and acclamation of praise, it is not so.

Spiritually Dead

A church is made up of more than its leaders. Sometimes there are good leaders and bad churches. Sometimes there are bad leaders and good churches. A church seldom rises higher than those who lead it. Most people are like sheep, sad to say, in blindly following evil, and they will never rise higher than their human teachers. Sometimes—more often—God will have sent leaders, but the church lags behind, and thus it was with the Protestant reformers.

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.’ ” Revelation 3:1. What are the seven Spirits of God? What are the seven stars? We read in Revelation 1:20 that these seven stars represent the seven angels, the seven messengers. In some Bible versions, “seven stars” is translated as the seven preachers, the seven ministers, the seven messengers, or the seven angels. These are God’s messengers to the churches—such as Huss and Jerome, Luther, Zwingli, and Melancthon. God held them in His hands; He protected them; He gave them a message.

But what does He say to the church? “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” Revelation 3:1. This text is very appropriate for us in the last days, because it also applies to Laodicea. Over and over again, this is the description of God’s people in the last days.

Matthew 7:21 is part of the Laodicean message, and it applies to the people of God immediately before the last days. It says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ . . . .” These people have a name that says they are Christians, and they believe they are saved. They have a name, but Jesus says that not everyone who has a name “shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” It is not just hearing; it is doing.

“Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ ” Verses 22, 23. They had a name that they were living, but they were spiritually dead. This is the message of Sardis.

Shut Door

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door,” that is the close of probation. Luke 13:24, 25. This is at the end of time. Notice that there are people still living and arguing, but the door is shut, just as the door of the ark was shut. In Revelation, we find that the door is going to be shut; probation is going to close. Some at that time are going to be found wise with extra oil; some are going to be found foolish.

When once the door is shut, many will find themselves standing on the outside, knocking at the door, and saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” This is going to be the experience of a multitude of Seventh-day Adventists. They are going to say, “We are still Adventists; our names are still on the church books. Open the door to us,” but the door will be shut. The Lord will answer and say to them, “I do not know you, where you are from.” Verse 25.

These people have a name. They say, “Lord,” but the Lord does not know them. They have a name that they are living, that they are Christians, but they are dead. That is the greatest, most awful deception that can come upon anyone—to think that they are saved when they are most assuredly lost.

“Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence [they partook of the Lord’s Supper], and You taught in our streets [we listened to You preach].’ ” Verse 26. They thought the messengers were teaching the Words of God, and they listened. That was Sardis. They listened to Martin Luther; they listened to the messengers. God taught in their streets, and they accepted the message, but they were never converted.

First Shall be Last

“But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.” Verses 27–30. There was never a more appropriate message for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, for the Christian church, or for the world today.

It is a solemn reality. There are many people who have been Adventists all their lives—even church leaders—who are going to find that they are thrust out, while God brings others in to take their places. The first shall be last and the last shall be first.

Hide It Not

Why do you suppose God likened the church to a candlestick? Because, Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” But God says, “Do not hide the light under a bushel.” Matthew 5:14; Luke 11:33. Is it possible for the church to hide the light under a bushel? It happened in the Jewish church, and millions of people were lost.

God has given freedom. You see, sin is the misuse of freedom. The Jewish people misused their freedom, and God held them accountable, more so than the pagans, because they were to be the light of the world, but they hid it. Is it possible for the light to be perverted? Yes, it is. When once a people have the light but then they hide it or pervert it, they are worse off than if they had never had the light in the beginning.

Do you remember what Jesus told His true people—those who went to church on the Sabbath, paid their tithe, had the oracles of God, and who were the Jewish people of Capernaum? He said, “You people are worse than those of Sodom and Gomorrah,” who were homosexuals who died of the judgments of God, because He sent fire down from heaven, when they became so wicked. God told the people of Capernaum, “You are worse than they.” (See Matthew 11:23–25.) Is it important what we do with the light?

Do you know what I want to see happen in all of our churches? I want to see people who have the love of Jesus within, who love the Lord with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and who are going to share this message and love one another as themselves. They did not do that in Sardis.

To be continued . . .

Pastor Marshall Grosboll, with his wife Lillian, founded Steps to Life. In July 1991, Pastor Marshall and his family met with tragedy as they were returning home from a camp meeting in Washington state, when the airplane he was piloting went down, killing all on board.