Note: This is a continuing evaluation of the book The Days of Vengeance written by David Chilton. Chilton at the time of writing this was a partial preterist who later in life (after a massive heart attack) turned to full preterism. Sections will be taken from the book and commented on to the fullest extent possible. A PDF of the book can be found here.
Now it is time to focus on Sardis. The status of the church overwhelms the historical documentation of the city itself. Chilton is quick to point that death is not what the modern church defines as death,
The church of Sardis had a reputation for being an active congregation, “alive” for Christ. Undoubtedly it was well-known in Asia as the representative of the Christian faith in a wealthy and famous city. It was, perhaps, fashionable and popular in the community; there is no evidence that, in a period of growing persecution, the church in Sardis was coming under attack. In fact, the evidence is all the other way, indicating that the church had almost totally compromised with the surrounding culture. This busy, seemingly fruitful and growing church was, in fact, dead. We should note that the death of Sardis did not necessarily consist in a lack of youth activities or fellowship meetings (which is the reason why churches tend to be called “dead” today). Rather, the church had become, as Mounce correctly observes, secularized. (DOV, 59)
When the church looks like the world there is a fundamental breakdown in one of the two worldviews. Either the world has false adopted particular views of the church or the church has accepted the value of the world. In the case of the church at Sardis, the church had a famous name but was bearing no fruit. There would be no outward sign of death but God looks at the heart (1 Sam 16:7). Chilton sees a link between the history of Sardis and the type of warning that Christ provides,
G. R. Beasley-Murray points out some interesting history about the town of Sardis which serves as an appropriate background to this statement: “Sardis was built on a mountain, and an acropolis was constructed on a spur of this mountain, which was all but impregnable. Yet twice in the city’s history it had been taken unawares and captured by enemies. The parallel with the church’s lack of vigilance, and its need to wake up lest it fall under judgment is striking.” Sardis is not quite completely dead, but these things are about to die. Although the Lord has not written off the entire church yet, the danger is real and immediate...
If therefore you will not repent, Christ warns, I will come upon you like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you. To repeat what has been painstakingly pointed out above (see on 1:7; 2:5, 16), the threat of Christ’s coming against a local church, or even against a nation or group of nations, is not the same as the Second Coming (i.e., the end of the world). Everyone is accessible to Christ the Lord at all times, and any disobedient individual, family, church, business, society, or nation is liable to have Christ come in judgment – a judgment which may include any or all the covenantal curses listed in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. In any case, the words upon you indicate a local coming; the failure of commentators and preachers to understand this simple fact is the predictable result of a flat, futurist hermeneutic... (DOV, 59-60)
Building off this church of death is the usual discussion concerning Eternal Security. Christ's own words to not "blot out there name" provokes Chilton to a lengthy discussion of the false interpretations of that view. Because that discussion is principally not eschatological, I will let it pass from this blog and into your own private study. Instead we'll let Chilton close us out with an evaluation of Christ's closing words,
I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels. This echoes Jesus’ statements in the Gospels: “Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33; cf. Mark 8:38; Luke 12:8-9). Many of the Christians in Sardis were denying Christ before their community, as they endeavored to be praised of men rather than of God. At the Last Judgment they would hear these words from the Son of God: I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness (Matt. 7:23). But those who overcame these temptations would be joyfully acknowledged by Christ as His own. This message is as important and needed today as it was 2000 years ago. Do we have ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches? (DOV, 61)