The fourth thing they needed at Sardis was to recover the hope of the Lord's return. "If you do not wake up," says the Lord, "I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you." The hope of the Lord's return is alluded to many times throughout the New Testament and particularly in the book of Revelation. But Sardis had lost its expectation of that coming.
Some friends of mine live in a two-story house, with bedrooms upstairs. One morning they came downstairs to find that while they had slept peacefully in their beds upstairs a thief had been very busy downstairs. Their silverware and many other costly items and furnishings had been stolen. They had heard nothing, because a thief never knocks, never rings the doorbell, never announces his presence. He enters silently, takes what he wants, then disappears again.
The Lord says that is what His coming again will be like — not His visible coming when He appears to establish His kingdom, when every eye will see Him, as described in Revelation 1:7. Rather, what Jesus describes here is the coming He mentioned in His great Olivet discourse in Matthew 24:43. There He says He will come suddenly, without warning, like a thief who comes to steal treasure in the night. That is how the parousia, the coming of the Lord for His church, will begin. He will take His true church suddenly out of the world. It will disappear from the world's sight.
7 Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth shall gaze upon Him and beat their breasts and mourn and lament over Him. Even so [must it be]. Amen (so be it). [Daniel 7:13; Zechariah 12:10.] AMP
43 But understand this: had the householder known in what [part of the night, whether in a night or a morning] watch the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have allowed his house to be undermined and broken into. AMP
Paul describes this event in 1 Corinthians 15, the great resurrection chapter, when he says, "Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep [i.e., die], but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye." That is the dynamic hope of the church. The church is the great unrecognized treasure of the world, but the Lord will one day come as a thief and take it to Himself. That is what theologians have called the Rapture of the church (though departure of the church might be a better term).
The church at Sardis desperately needed to focus upon this elevating, emboldening, encouraging hope. Without this hope, the church was dead.
1 Corinthians 15
15:1 AND NOW let me remind you [since it seems to have escaped you], brethren, of the Gospel (the glad tidings of salvation) which I proclaimed to you, which you welcomed and accepted and upon which your faith rests,
2 And by which you are saved, if you hold fast and keep firmly what I preached to you, unless you believed at first without effect and all for nothing.
3 For I passed on to you first of all what I also had received, that Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) died for our sins in accordance with [what] the Scriptures [foretold], [Isaiah 53:5-12.]
4 That He was buried, that He arose on the third day as the Scriptures foretold, [Psalms 16:9,10.]
5 And [also] that He appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the Twelve.
6 Then later He showed Himself to more than five hundred brethren at one time, the majority of whom are still alive, but some have fallen asleep [in death].
7 Afterward He was seen by James, then by all the apostles (the special messengers),
8 And last of all He appeared to me also, as to one prematurely and born dead [no better than an unperfected fetus among living men].
9 For I am the least [worthy] of the apostles, who am not fit or deserving to be called an apostle, because I once wronged and pursued and molested the church of God [oppressing it with cruelty and violence].
10 But by the grace (the unmerited favor and blessing) of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not [found to be] for nothing (fruitless and without effect). In fact, I worked harder than all of them [the apostles], though it was not really I, but the grace (the unmerited favor and blessing) of God which was with me.
11 So, whether then it was I or they, this is what we preach and this is what you believed [what you adhered to, trusted in, and relied on].
12 But now if Christ (the Messiah) is preached as raised from the dead, how is it that some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not risen;
14 And if Christ has not risen, then our preaching is in vain [it amounts to nothing] and your faith is devoid of truth and is fruitless (without effect, empty, imaginary, and unfounded).
15 We are even discovered to be misrepresenting God, for we testified of Him that He raised Christ, Whom He did not raise in case it is true that the dead are not raised.
16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised;
17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is mere delusion [futile, fruitless], and you are still in your sins [under the control and penalty of sin];
18 And further, those who have died in [spiritual fellowship and union with] Christ have perished (are lost)!
19 If we who are [abiding] in Christ have hope only in this life and that is all, then we are of all people most miserable and to be pitied.
20 But the fact is that Christ (the Messiah) has been raised from the dead, and He became the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep [in death].
21 For since [it was] through a man that death [came into the world, it is] also through a Man that the resurrection of the dead [has come].
22 For just as [because of their union of nature] in Adam all people die, so also [by virtue of their union of nature] shall all in Christ be made alive.
23 But each in his own rank and turn: Christ (the Messiah) [is] the firstfruits, then those who are Christ's [own will be resurrected] at His coming.
24 After that comes the end (the completion), when He delivers over the kingdom to God the Father after rendering inoperative and abolishing every [other] rule and every authority and power.
25 For [Christ] must be King and reign until He has put all [His] enemies under His feet. [Psalms 110:1.]
26 The last enemy to be subdued and abolished is death.
27 For He [the Father] has put all things in subjection under His [Christ's] feet. But when it says, All things are put in subjection [under Him], it is evident that He [Himself] is excepted Who does the subjecting of all things to Him. [Psalms 8:6.]
28 However, when everything is subjected to Him, then the Son Himself will also subject Himself to [the Father] Who put all things under Him, so that God may be all in all [be everything to everyone, supreme, the indwelling and controlling factor of life].
29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being [themselves] baptized in behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?
30[For that matter], why do I live [dangerously as I do, running such risks that I am] in peril every hour?
31[I assure you] by the pride which I have in you in [your fellowship and union with] Christ Jesus our Lord, that I die daily [I face death every day and die to self].
32 What do I gain if, merely from the human point of view, I fought with [wild] beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised [at all], let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we will be dead. [Isaiah 22:13.]
33 Do not be so deceived and misled! Evil companionships (communion, associations) corrupt and deprave good manners and morals and character.
34 Awake [from your drunken stupor and return] to sober sense and your right minds, and sin no more. For some of you have not the knowledge of God [you are utterly and willfully and disgracefully ignorant, and continue