READ : Revelation 2 and 3
Revelation 2 and 3 contain seven letters to seven churches. These letters to ancient churches are also letters to us from the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
In Chapters 2 and 3 of this amazing book of Revelation we meet seven letters, addressed
to seven first-century churches in the Roman province of Asia, which is present-day
Whose letters are these? Most profoundly, they’re letters from the risen Lord who walks
among the golden lampstands, and each letter recalls some aspect of the vision of Christ
that we see in chapter 1. So they are letters from Jesus Christ.
They are also letters from John, who is the prophet-pastor, Jesus’ scribe. And he’s
writing them to churches with whom he has a special connection. He has labored among them.
He knows their particular needs, problems, and graces. So John also is the one who is
sending the letters, and the Holy Spirit also because at the end of each of these letters
the word is, “Let the one who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the
Why Seven Churches?
Now we wonder why seven churches and why these seven? There were many other churches in
Asia at the time that these letters were written. Why these particular seven? When you
look at them on the map, they form a roughly circular delivery route, so that anybody who
came from Patmos after receiving this communication from John would have landed probably
at Ephesus and then gone up to the left and around a circle ending in Laodicea. These were
churches with whom John had been closely connected. And I think seven is also significant
in the book of Revelation as the number of completeness. Seven suggests to us that these
letters are not just written to these seven particular congregations in the first-century
Roman empire, but they are written to the whole church of Jesus Christ, including us.
To Whom Addressed?
To whom are they addressed? We read: “To the the angels of the churches.” Are these
guardian angels? Or does this mean the heart, the essential nature of the church? Or more
probably, does this “angel” which means “messenger” mean the pastors, the leaders, and the
bishops of the churches? I believe John is addressing those church leaders. And it’s a
great comfort to me as a minister of the gospel to know that these angels of the churches
are in the right hand of Jesus Christ. It’s wonderful to know that we are in the Lord’s
hand in the work that we are trying to do.
What Is Commended and What Is Censured?
Now what’s commended in the churches as you read through these letters? They’re
commended for not tolerating evildoers. There’s significant church discipline. They’re
commended for holding to the faith, not giving in, being faithful all the way to death.
They are praised for their faithfulness during times of persecution, for their active
works of service, and for the patient endurance that they show.
What is censured and warned against in these letters? Leaving one’s first love. It is
significant that the first church addressed, the church in Ephesus, has many fine
qualities, but Jesus says he has this against them: that they have “left their first
love.” We’ll think more about that a little later.
They are warned against the fear of suffering that would lead them to turn aside.
They’re warned against doctrinal compromise, giving up vital truths of the Christian
gospel. They’re warned against moral compromise, letting the ethics and the lifestyle of a
surrounding culture corrupt them.
They’re warned against spiritual deadness, having the appearance of being a live church
but really being dead. They’re warned against the failure to hold on when the pressure
comes. And they’re warned very severely about lukewarmness, about complacency, about being
satisfied with themselves and feeling no sense of spiritual need.
What Is Promised to “Overcomers”?
In these letters, what is promised to the overcomers? The right to eat from the tree of
life from which we’ve been banished because of our sins. They will not be harmed by what
is called “the second death” in Revelation. They’ll receive “the hidden manna and a white
stone with a new name.” God will give them a new name which only the person who receives
it will know. They’ll have authority over the nations. They’ll have the bright and morning
star. They’ll be dressed in white, and their names will never be blotted out from the
Lamb’s Book of Life. They will be pillars in the temple of God. They will have the name
of God and the City of God and Jesus’ own name upon them. They will be sitting with Jesus
on his throne.
There are three elements in these letters that I want to especially lift out for you.
One is a warning, one is a promise, and one is an invitation. The warning comes from the
first of these letters that I mentioned. The people in Ephesus “have left their first
love.” And Jesus calls them to repent and to do the first works, to return to the love
that they had for the Lord and his people which they have left behind. And the warning is
that if they don’t repent, if they don’t return, their candlestick will be removed. Now
the candlestick is the very existence of the church. And to have your candlestick removed
would mean that in that place the church would cease to be. It’s sobering to think about
Turkey which used to be an area in which there were hundreds of Christian churches and now
only a bare handful remain.
North Africa used to be a center for Christian faith and life, and no longer is. Europe
was for many centuries a base for the Christian faith, but that has really declined.
It’s as though God moved his candlestick from what is present-day Turkey and moved it from
North Africa, and then moved it from Europe. And now in the U.S. we have had wonderful
seasons of refreshing and revival, but there are many who feel that the church here is
losing out. Maybe God is moving his candlestick because we do not come back to our first
love. He is moving it to places like China, like Korea, like Uganda and Nigeria.
God has his wonderful ways and is calling us in a warning lest our candlestick be
removed, so that we may come back to our first love for Christ and for his people and for
his cause. That’s the warning!
Next comes a wonderful promise that’s made to the church in Philadelphia. The letter to
Philadelphia describes a church with little strength but with endurance. They will be
tried but they will pass the test. They’ve apparently had an outstanding witness in their
surrounding area, but they are given now a stupendous promise about their future ministry.
The Lord says to them, “I have set before you an open door which no one is able to shut.”
When Paul uses this phrase, it describes great opportunity for fruitful labor in the
gospel. This is what the whole church, in spite of our great weakness, is promised. God’s
Word will not come back empty in spite of how weak and inadequate we may be.
So the promise is: God gives to his weak people who endure, who hold to the faith, an
open door that no one will be able to shut. So that they will be able to proclaim the
gospel and God will bless it to the hearts of the people to whom they go with the Word. So
that’s the promise – an open door for ministry and witness, for those who, although
they are weak, remain faithful and carry on their ministry.
The Great Invitation
Now the last is an invitation. I mention the letter to the church in Laodicea in which
Jesus says to them that they are neither cold nor hot; they are lukewarm. That is
disgusting to the Lord! He’s ready to spit them out of his mouth. And the problem is they
may be a very gifted church but they are very complacent. They think that they have many
gifts and that they have need of nothing. They don’t know that they are “wretched,
miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” And so Jesus urges them to buy from him gold tried in
the fire, clothing to clothe their nakedness, and eye salve to anoint their eyes.
So here’s a church with many many different kinds of problems. And yet to this church
which typifies many things in our lives and our churches, John gives this amazing promise,
and amazing invitation:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I
will come in to him and will eat with him and he with me.
Now imagine that, spoken to the church with the most problems, that receives the
sharpest rebuke, a word to all God’s people of gracious invitation. It’s the path to
becoming a Christian.
I remember a couple I got to know in Chicago who weren’t sure that Christ had come into
their lives. They had invited him several times but they never knew if he had come. And
then we talked about this verse. I said to them (Fran and Joanne were their names) I said
to them, “Did you invite Jesus to come into your life?”And they said, “Yes,” Well, what
does he say here? “If anyone will hear my voice and open the door,” what? And they saw it,
“I will come in.” And he does!
For all who receive Jesus by faith, all who invite him into their lives, Jesus promises
he will come in. And if you who are listening have never invited Christ into your life,
listen, this is a word for you! If you open the door of your life, if you invite Jesus to
come and be your Savior and master, he says, “I will come in, will eat with you and you
So he invites us still. He desires entrance into our churches, our homes, our hearts,
but he will not force his way. He knocks. He nudges, he calls, and waits for our response.
The supreme blessing of opening the door for him ever and afresh is the communion with him
that all our hearts long for. So in Philadelphia we see a door through which we can go out
in witness and ministry; in Laodicea, a door through which Jesus comes in. What more could
any heart long for?