Friday, February 5th, 2021 —
Revelation 3:1-6, “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your works; you have the name of being alive, and you are dead. Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; keep that, and repent. If you will not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy. He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
John’s revelation was written approximately thirty years after Jesus’ ascension. Irenaeus (A.D. 180), a student of Polycarp, a disciple of John, wrote that the apocalyptic vision “was seen not very long ago, almost in our own generation, at the close of the reign of Domitian” (Against Heresies Book V, Chapter 30). The testimony of Irenaeus places the book near the end of Domitian’s reign (he was a great persecutor of the church who died in A.D. 98).
Sardis served as the administrative center of the Roman province of Lydia and was the first city where gold and silver coins were minted. It housed magnificent colonnaded avenues, imperial baths, important temples of the Imperial cult, and an arms factory. Sardis had the largest synagogue known in the ancient world. During the fourth century, Sardis became an important Christian center perhaps indicating that for a while the church did awaken and its preaching of the gospel increased. On the other hand, as we see too often in contemporary western church culture, it may have meant it grew because it embraced the culture and became a prestigious part of the city. Multiple temples to various gods and dedications to local Roman deities attest to the polytheistic nature of the city, and inscriptions in a multitude of languages including one completely unknown script demonstrate the multiethnic nature of Sardian society. Houses from the Lydian through the Late Roman period form a unique record of the cultural adaptations and changes. Certainly all these factors would have been part of the challenge and opportunity for the church in Sardis to shine in darkness.
Jesus’ warning is to “Awake!” It is the watch word, literally, shomer, means watchman, guard, guardian, keeper, watch, observe, heed, or preserve. Watchmen were essential in ancient times. There were two main types of watchmen in Israel. In ancient agrarian society, crops were of supreme importance. People grew their own food and the survival and prosperity of the family or clan depended on having a good harvest. A shomer guarded the farm or field to protect the harvest from thieves, enemy armies, wild animals. Crops were watched over night and day to ensure their safety. Migdal shomrim watchtowers were common.
The second type of shomer were armed watchmen on city walls. Their responsibility was to sight enemies and the alarm if danger from marauders, thieves, and enemy forces, approached. Gates in the city walls limited entry and openings in the wall allowed for weapons to be released before intruders could gain entry. If the watchmen perceived danger, they would sound the alarm. The night hours were especially important for the safety of the community. Modern Israel still has its shomrim stationed on alert at its border crossings and cities.
In Ezekiel 3:17 God says to the prophet, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.” He lays the responsibility of life and death on the watchman’s shoulders. In Psalm 121 God Himself is the Guardian of Israel. Shomer, he will guard or keep, is repeated six times in eight verses:
“I will lift up my eyes to the hills—from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps [shomer] you will not slumber. Behold He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber or sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth and even forevermore” (Psalm 121).
In Isaiah 62:6–7, God has “set watchmen” on the walls of Jerusalem and they are to keep their watch as intercessors praying for God’s city until He makes her “a praise in the earth.” Obedience to Jesus’ exhortation to the church in Sardis is coupled with a promise: white robes, the clothing of righteous acts of the saints that they “don’t walk naked” and their names will remain in the book of the living. This reference is found in Psalm 69, the ardent prayer of one who is persecuted for faithfully serving God in the midst of religious but wicked people.
I will praise God’s name in song
and glorify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox,
more than a bull with its horns and hooves.
The poor will see and be glad—
you who seek God, may your hearts live!
The Lord hears the needy
and does not despise his captive people.
Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and all that move in them,
for God will save Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah.
Then people will settle there and possess it;
The children of his servants will inherit it,
and those who love his name will dwell there.
Finally, to the watchman awake and faithful, Jesus says, “I will call out your name before My Father and His angels.” Imagine Jesus shouting your name when you appear before Him! When Jesus prayed at the garden of Gethsemane, He called His disciples and directed them, saying, “Watch and pray...” (Mark 14:38) Jesus knew that the moment of fulfillment for the finished work on the cross was about to come to pass, and He wanted His disciples to be with Him as His shomer. We are called by Jesus to a moment of opportunity NOW as watchmen on the wall.
Lord, awaken us, and may we be found faithful as watchmen in the earth today! We arise in every city, town, and church, and take our place on the walls of intercession for the sake of awakening and a mighty harvest with signs, wonders, and miracles in America and in every nation across the earth.
Isaiah 52:8, “Your watchmen shall lift up their voices, with their voices they shall sing together; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord brings back Zion.”
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