This chapter records the messages of Jesus to the last three “lampstands”, churches over which the Apostle John had supervision. The church in Sardis (v.1-6) was a “zombie” church. John had previously written of Jesus, “in Him was life” (see John 1:4) — and if Jesus is life, then His church ought to be lively! But Jesus said of this congregation, “You are dead” (v.1). They had the reputation of being alive, but appearances can be deceiving. A church can have good music but never really worship. A church can have a full schedule but no real ministry, busy programs but no evangelism, good doctrine but no measurable discipleship. The solution Jesus commanded was to “wake up” (v.2). A church awakening is often called “revival”, and it must happen on an individual level before it can happen on a corporate level. Revival comes when people make their way back to their original commitment to Jesus through repentance (v.3). I don’t understand all the implications of Jesus’s warning to “come like a thief” and “come against” the church that persists in its deadness — I just know I don’t want it to happen to mine.
The church in Philadelphia (v.7-13) had a bright future. Jesus introduced Himself as He who “has the key of David”, an expression of His supreme authority. David was the greatest king in the history of God’s people. Jesus was saying, “I have King David’s key; I have the authority over kings; I am the King of kings!” With that authority, what He opens stays open and what He shuts stays closed (v.7). Jesus gave the Philadelphia church “an open door” for ministry and evangelism. Jesus opens doors to churches that find their strength in Him. This church had “but little power” (v.8), but they believed God’s Word and they were standing firm in their faith. That is the key. Let’s be careful about what we depend on for strength. When we think we can do it all on our own, and we’re depending on our facilities, our budgets, our staff, and our organizational plans, we can only accomplish that which is humanly possible. We will be limited by our own ability. Jesus opens doors to those who will trust Him for the strength to do the impossible, and then give Him all the glory!
The church in Laodicea (v.14-22) was sickeningly lukewarm. They were not cold toward Jesus, but neither were they hot. While Jesus certainly wants all of His churches to be fired-up, He indicated that He preferred coldness to lukewarmness (v.15). Why would He say that? Why wouldn’t He want a church to be half-way for Him instead of totally against Him? Because lukewarm Christians and churches are misleading; they are a poor representation of the life-changing power of the gospel.
Jesus requires that we love and serve Him with our whole heart: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (see Matthew 22:37). If Jesus really is the virgin-born, sinless Son of God who died on the cross for guilty sinners, rose victoriously from the dead, and offers forgiveness and life to those who believe — then anything less than our wholehearted love and devotion is a slap in His face. It is the height of arrogance to say, “Jesus, I’ll take Your forgiveness and eternal life, but then just leave me alone. I want my ticket to heaven, but I don’t really want You.” The church in Laodicea had that attitude. According to verse 17, their greatest need was to see their need. Jesus said, “be zealous and repent” (v.19), indicating that lukewarmness is a sin — not a weakness, but wickedness. There is only one cure for lukewarmness: to eagerly and earnestly pursue repentance, turn your back on sin, and make a conscious effort to live a holy life in the power of the Holy Spirit.
A Christmas greeting: When Jesus was dying on the cross, His good friend John was the only disciple present on Golgotha (see John 19:25-27). As Jesus hung there dying, He assigned John to care for His mother, Mary. Early church historians say that from that day on, John never left Jerusalem or the care of Mary until her death. Surely John was curious about Jesus’s early years, and surely Mary was eager to share about her amazing life with the Son of God. What would it have been like to hear Mary share the story of the first Christmas? And what a thrill for John, having heard the memory of Christ’s First Advent from Mary, to hear the promise of Christ’s Second Advent from the Lord Himself! On this Christmas Day, think of the Baby in the manger of Bethlehem…but don’t stop there. Let your mind wander to the exalted Lord of Patmos, the Glorious One “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty”!
“Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him. Even so. Amen.”
– Revelation 1:7