The Book of Revelation contains some powerful and much needed insights for the church of Christ of our day and age. In this article, let’s consider one powerful lesson in particular: the need to be constantly “watching.”
When the Lord directed the Apostle John to write his Epistle to the church of Christ at Sardis, He had these words to tell the brethren:
Revelation 3:7-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.
Notice the warning of the Lord to these Christians: if they will not watch, He will come upon them as a thief at an hour in which they will not expect.
When we consider the history of this city, we learn the background behind this statement. William Barclay has written:
“Seven centuries before this letter was written, Sardis had been one of the greatest cities in the world. There, the king of Lydia ruled over his empire in splendour. At that time, Sardis was a city of the east and was hostile to the Greek world. Aeschylus, the Greek poet, wrote of it: ‘They that dwelt by Tmolus pledged themselves to cast the yoke on Hellas.’ Sardis stood in the middle of the plain of the valley of the River Hermus. To the north of that plain rose the long ridge of Mount Tmolus; from that ridge, a series of hills went out like spurs, each forming a narrow plateau. On one of these spurs, 1,500 feet up, stood the original Sardis. Clearly, such a position made it almost impregnable. The sides of the ridge were smoothly precipitous; and only where the spur met the ridge of Mount Tmolus was there any possible approach into Sardis, and even that was difficult and steep. It has been said that Sardis stood like some gigantic watch-tower guarding the Hermus valley. The time came when the narrow space on the top of the plateau was too small for the expanding city; and Sardis grew around the foot of the spur on which the citadel stood….The rock on which Sardis was built crumbled easily. It was more like close-packed dried mud than rock. The nature of the rock meant that it developed cracks. A certain Mardian soldier called Hyeroeades had seen a Sardian soldier accidentally drop his helmet over the battlements and then make his way down the precipice to retrieve it. Hyeroeades knew that there must be a crack in the rock there by means of which an agile man could climb up. That night, he led a party of Persian troops up by the fault in the rock. When they reached the top, they found the battlements completely unguarded. The Sardians had thought themselves too safe to need a guard; and so Sardis fell. A city with a history like that knew what the risen Christ was talking about when he said: ‘Watch!’…Then history repeated itself. After the death of Alexander, there were many claimants for the power. Antiochus, who became the ruler of the area in which Sardis stood, was at war with a rival called Achaeus who sought refuge in Sardis. For a year, Antiochus besieged him; then a soldier called Lagoras repeated the exploit of Hyeroeades. At night, with a band of brave men, he climbed the steep cliffs. The Sardians had forgotten their lesson. There was no guard, and once again Sardis fell because it had not kept watch.” (William Barclay, The Revelation Of John: Volume One, 123-126 (Kindle Edition); Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press)
From this incredible background of the passage, we can learn some very important lessons.
First, history can be one of the greatest teachers to learn from! The people of Sardis knew their background, and they knew this history of their city. By reminding them of their history, Jesus is teaching them to be prepared in the present so that they will be ready in the future. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why Christians need to be students of history. For example, even though the church of Christ does not live under the Old Testament Law (Colossians 2:14-17; Ephesians 2:15; Romans 7:4), we are admonished to study the Old Testament Scriptures to learn from the history of the nations of the world:
Romans 15:4-For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
1 Corinthians 10:6-Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.
1 Corinthians 10:11-Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
2 Peter 2:6-and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly;
Christians needs to be students of the Old Testament Scriptures. History can teach us some very important lessons, if we will prepare our hearts to learn.
Second (to coin a phrase), the text teaches us that those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
The people of Sardis had failed to learn from their terrible calamity and fall centuries earlier, and so had been forced to undergo a similar defeat years later. We must remember that the devil is on the prowl (1 Peter 5:8) looking for Christians who refuse to learn from their past sins. When we fall into sin (1 John 1:8), we need to repent (Acts 8:22) and learn from our errors. I have seen this in my own life, as well as from many with whom I work. For example, when I work with addicts, I try to encourage them to identify and locate those characteristics which many call “triggers,” i.e., those circumstances, thought patterns, habits, and emotional reactions which can often lead a person down the path of “relapse.” What is true for addicts in this regard is true for every person. We all have “triggers” which can lead us into sin, and we need to learn from our past to help us better be prepared for the present day so that when we face our difficult times and temptations, we will be prepared.
We must learn from the past. .
Third, this passage reminds us about the fact that sometimes passages of Scripture are better understood by studying outside of the Bible. Throughout the Old and the New Testaments, God’s inspired Prophets and Apostles encourage the people of the Lord to at times study extra-biblical books to gain better understanding of things written in the Word (cf. Joshua 10:13; Acts 17:26-28; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Titus 1:12-13). Failure to carefully consider the cultural context of passages of Scripture has often led to extreme positions and teachings.
We would do well to study outside of Scripture when such would better enhance our understanding of the Word of God.
Fourth, this passage is a powerful reminder that Christians need to keep constant vigil. Here, the Lord is speaking of coming in judgment against this congregation for its’ spiritual lethargy and indifference. They were not being who God called them to be, and so He is giving them time to repent. What happens if they do not do so? Then He will come against them in judgement. The contextual reference to eternal judgment (Revelation 3:5) suggests that the Lord is talking about the fact that if they will not be faithful, their names will be taken out of the Book of Life. Those who maintain that a child of God can never fall from grace are in direct contradiction to the Scriptures (cf. 2 Peter 2:20-22; Galatians 5:4; 1 Corinthians 10:12; James 5:19-20, etc.).
Finally, we are reminded here of the fact that the Second Coming of Christ could happen at any moment. The command to “watch” reminds us of the many warnings of Jesus regarding the Second Coming. Consider some of His statements in Matthew 24 and 25:
Matthew 24:36-But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.
Matthew 24:42-Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.
Matthew 24:44-Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Matthew 24:50-the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of,
Matthew 25:13-Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.
There are many who claim that they know when Jesus is returning, and that the Lord has left signs for us to advertise when His Second Coming will take place. Yet the Scriptures are clear that no signs were left to foretell that Day, and that therefore we need to be ready at all times, “watching” for His Return (cf. 2 Peter 3:9-13).
Friend, are you ready for the Return of Christ? He came the first time to go to the Cross of Calvary to pay the debt of sin for all those who will turn to Him (Romans 5:8). He loves you and wants you to be saved (John 3:16). He died, was buried, and rose again the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). But when He returns, it will not only be to save His people but to bring the Day of Judgment:
2 Thessalonians 1:7-10-and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 8 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.
We “obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” when we as believers (John 8:24) repent of our sins (Luke 13:3) and are baptized in water with Him (Romans 6:3-4, 17-18) upon a profession of faith that He is the Son of God (Acts 8:37; 1 Timothy 6:12). We continue to “obey the Gospel” by living faithfully to Him, even to the point of death (Revelation 2:10).
Friend, if you have not obeyed the Lord’s plan of salvation, won’t you please do so today?
If you are a child of God who at one time obeyed His Word but have wandered away in sin, then won’t you please repent and pray to the Lord for forgiveness as the Christians at Sardis were exhorted to do (Revelation 3:3; cf. 1 John 1:9)?
Your church family stands ready to assist you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.