Sardis History and Background
Sardis was an ancient city located in what is now western Turkey. It was the capital of the Lydian kingdom, one of the most powerful and wealthy kingdoms in the world during the 7th century BC. The Lydians were thought to be the first to mint coins, and Sardis was a major center of trade and commerce. Aesop (of Aesop’s Fables) is said to have been Lydian and of Sardis.
Lydia was an ancient kingdom in western Turkey. Its capital was Sardes. In Antiquity, this country was well known for its gold-carrying river Pactolus; the wealth of the last Lydian king Croesus, who had been the first to mint gold, was and is proverbial.
In 547 BC, Sardis was conquered by the Persians, and it became an important administrative center of the Persian Empire. Alexander the Great captured the city in 330 BC, and it became part of the Greek world. Under Roman rule, Sardis continued to flourish, and it was one of the most important cities in Asia Minor. It was destroyed by a major earthquake in AD 17 and rebuilt by the Roman Emperor Tiberius, leading to him being honored as the city’s founder and possibly contributing to emperor worship there and in Asia Minor.
Sardis was home to a number of important religious sites, including the Temple of Artemis, one of the largest temples in the ancient world. The city was also a major center of Christianity, and it was one of the Seven Churches of Asia mentioned in the Book of Revelation.
Sardis began to decline in the 6th century AD, and it was eventually abandoned in the 15th century. However, the ruins of the city are still impressive, and they offer a glimpse into the rich history of Sardis.
Here is a brief timeline of the major events in the history of Sardis:
• c. 1500 BC: Sardis was founded by the Lydians.
• 7th century BC: Sardis becomes the capital of the Lydian kingdom and one of the most powerful and wealthy kingdoms in the world.
• 547 BC: Sardis is conquered by the Persians.
• 330 BC: Sardis is captured by Alexander the Great.
• 133 BC: Sardis comes under Roman rule.
• 17 AD: Sardis is destroyed by a massive earthquake and rebuilt by the Romans.
• 1st century AD: Sardis became an important center of Christianity.
• 6th century AD: Sardis begins to decline.
• 15th century AD: Sardis is abandoned.
Today, the ruins of Sardis are a popular tourist destination. Visitors can see the remains of the ancient city walls, temples, and other buildings. The site is also home to a number of museums, which house artifacts from the Lydian, Persian, Greek, and Roman periods.
Church in Sardis
We know little about the church in Sardis except for history’s record of Melito being the bishop or pastor of the church there until his death in about 180 AD. He is said to have echoed the Christology of the apostle John, teaching that Jesus is true God and also true man. He is also said to have helped form the canon of the Old Testament Books of the Bible.
Scripture Reading: Revelation 3:1-6
1 “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:
Cf. Rev. 1:4; 12-13, 20; cf. Isa. 11:1-2; John 3:34; Zech. 3:9; 4:2; 4:10
“I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.
Cf. Eph. 2:1-3,11-13; Col. 2:13; Matt. 15:8-12; Ps. 78:36-37; Isa. 29:13-14; 1:10-20
2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.
Works not perfect or acceptable to God (Cf. Isa. 64:6; Col. 1:19-23)
3 Remember, therefore, how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore, if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.
Cf. 2 Pet. 3:9-18; Matt, 24:36ff.
4 You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.
Cf. Isa. 64:6; Col. 1:19-23; Rev. 6:11; 7:13ff.
5 He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.
Cf. 1 John 2:13-14; 5:4; Rev. 19:14; Rev. 20:11-15; Sins blotted out for believers (cf. Acts 3:19); unbelievers blotted out of the Book of Life; Those who overcome by faith will not be blotted out of the Book of life. Confessed before God the Father in heaven Cf. Mark 8:38; Rev. 2:10.
6 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ’
Jesus’ words in many of His parables: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matt. 13:9).
How important this is! If you hear what the Spirit of God is saying to the churches, listen and heed His words! Your very salvation depends on it!
The letter to the church in Sardis is a warning to all Christians who are going through the motions of faith but are not truly trusting and following Jesus. Our Lord Jesus calls us to wake up and “strengthen the things which remain” (3:2). We should also remember that Jesus knows our works and will reward us for our faithfulness.
Some specific ways that we can apply the message of the letter to Sardis to our own lives:
• Examine our hearts and lives to make sure that we are truly following Jesus. Are we going through the motions of faith, or are we, in faith, living our lives for Him? (cf. 2 Cor. 13:5; Psalm 139:23-24).
• Repent of any sin in our lives. Confess our sins to God and seek His forgiveness in the shed blood of Christ Jesus, our Savior (cf. Psalm 32:1-5).
• Be strengthened in our faith by reading the Bible, praying, worshiping God and hearing God’s Word regularly (cf. 2 Tim. 3:14-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; Rom. 10:17; John 6:63).
• Be involved in a faithful local church and minister to others (Heb. 10:19-25; Col. 3:16).
• Be faithful to Jesus, even when the church is dead. Remember that He sees our works and will reward us for our faithfulness (Rev. 2:10).
[Scripture is taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]