In dealing with the first four churches of Revelation 2, we have examined churches that the church of God has considered to have existed before the "end-time era." We have generally taught that the last three churches exist in this age. Many have pigeonholed them as Sardis, the church Herbert Armstrong began with in the church of God; Philadelphia, Herbert Armstrong's work and the one most consider to be their group; and Laodicea, everyone else today. Let us first examine Sardis, an era few would knowingly choose for themselves, to see if Sardis fits this perceived pigeonhole.
1. Sardis has a "name" that they are living. Is this something in the name itself or in the reputation? Revelation 3:1.
Comment: If we consider only the Church of God, Seventh Day that Herbert Armstrong affiliated with, nothing in its name or reputation indicates life. Herbert Armstrong saw it had most of the basic doctrines correct, but judged the organization as not really doing a work. Hence, he called it dead, not alive. Perhaps it did have a Sardis approach, but since neither its official name nor reputation indicates life, we must look elsewhere for a larger fulfillment of Christ's words.
Somewhere within the church of God are people who—either by name or reputation—appear to be living, yet whom God judges essentially spiritually dead, save a few names. How easy it is to deceive ourselves about our true standing with God!
2. Does God indicate why He judges Sardis mostly dead? Revelation 3:2-3.
Comment: Christ warns these people to take heed because what they have received is about to die in them. Spiritually, they are "dead men walking."
Comment: God first addresses their "works." While they may still have the truth, their dead works indicate a lack of living faith. This indicates a people who perceive themselves to be alive, but who apparently are basically standing still, spiritually catatonic and comatose. They may exist as stones in the Temple, but not as "living stones." Perhaps this is why Christ says "not one stone will be left upon another"!
Comment: Not only in deeds or works is Sardis deficient, but the people are in danger of losing what they have "received and heard." Many people today are straying from what God gave us through Herbert Armstrong. This includes not just many of those who remained in the Worldwide Church of God, but also some that left who are allowing sound doctrine to be eroded and lost.
5. What danger does their spiritual coma present? Revelation 3:3; Matthew 24:42-25:13.
Comment: A characteristic of the dead, physically or spiritually, is that they are unaware. Perhaps those of Sardis are not aware of what is really happening in the church and world. Maybe they think Christ "is delaying His coming" and have relaxed spiritually. Whatever the reason, they are standing still and not growing, slowly losing what life they had. In this spiritual state, end-time events could catch them by surprise like a thief in the night.
6. Is it possible to be among Sardis people and still be alive? Revelation 3:4.
Comment: A few names in Sardis are still alive spiritually. One might judge himself of another group entirely if he judges himself alive, but God says some are living among the dead. Are any of us really willing to call ourselves dead? We all judge ourselves as part of any group but Sardis! Yet God says Sardis exists, maybe not "alive and well" but it exists nonetheless. We all need to examine ourselves. Would God judge our works as lively, our faith as living? Are we slowly losing what we originally received and heard? Today, many tend to criticize and malign Herbert Armstrong, but is he not from whom we "received and heard"?
Comment: There is hope even for the dead! They can be resurrected, physically or spiritually. Christ offers Sardis the same hope He gives the other six churches: Overcome and inherit the Kingdom of God. In this case, He offers them white garments, since most in Sardis have soiled their "fine linen." If they repent and overcome, Christ will confess their names to the Father, who will gladly accept them into His Family!