“Jesus’ Letters To His Churches” (Revelation 2 & 3 sermon)

Have you ever kept a letter someone sent to you, that means a lot to you? Maybe it was a love letter from your husband or wife while you were dating. Cheryl has a group of letters I sent her, tied together with string, that she puts out on our table each February for Valentine’s Day. Or maybe you have a letter from some famous person that you have kept. 

All through history people have kept letters that have become very precious. Some have also become very valuable as well. The most expensive letter sold at auction went for $6,098,500 on April 10, 2013 by Christie’s in New York, for a letter written by Francis Crick in 1953 to his son Michael Crick, outlining the revolutionary discovery of the structure and function of DNA. In the seven-page handwritten letter to his 12-year-old son, Crick describes his discovery of the structure of DNA as something “beautiful,” and it includes a simple sketch of DNA’s double helix structure. That’s a neat letter, I think — but SIX MILLION DOLLARS? I don’t know … 

But starting today, we are looking at seven letters, that are perhaps THE most important in all history: the seven letters that Jesus had John send to the seven different churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, in what is now the nation of Turkey. 

When you read through these seven letters, you find several things that each of them has in common. For example:

— Each of these letters is addressed to “the angel” of the church, which is what we would call the church’s “pastor.”

— Each begins with Jesus describing Himself, like to Ephesus He says: “The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands …”, and He describes Himself in a way like that to each of the churches. 

— Then He begins each message saying, “I KNOW”!  Most (5) of them begin “I know your deeds …”

— Then in each one, He gives them a personalized message: He talks about what they are doing well (except Laodicea), and where they were falling short (except for Philadelphia). But He had a personal message for each of these churches that fit their particular circumstances.

— Then in each letter He promises a blessing for “He who overcomes” the problems that they face.

— And He closes each message to the seven churches with an admonition: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (In the first 3 letters this is the NEXT to last thing He says; in the last 4 He closes with these words, but they are always present in each of the letters.) He tells them to LISTEN! “He who has an ear, let him hear …”.

So before we begin to look at these letters individually, let’s look briefly at these things which all of them have in common, because they have a LOT to tell us — and let those of US who have ears, hear! 


Every one of these letters is addressed “to the ANGEL of the church.” For example, the first one in 2:1 is addressed “To the angel of the church in Ephesus;” the second “to the angel of the church in Smyrna;” and so on for each of the seven churches.

It may sound odd that it is written “to the angel” of the church, but as we talked about a few weeks ago, the word we translate “angel” in English here is the Greek Bible word “angelos” which can mean either “angel” OR “messenger.” You have to tell from the context which it is. In this case most Bible students believe God is not writing a “letter” to an angel with a message for His church — why would He need to do that? But writing a letter to the “messenger” — what we would call the “pastor” of the church, with a message from the Lord, WOULD make sense. And that’s what most interpreters believe this is. It’s a message from the Lord to the pastors of the churches, to give to their flocks in these cities. We talked about this before, a few weeks ago, so we won’t spend a lot of time on it again today.


Every one of these letters begins with Jesus describing Himself to the church, using some part of the vision that He gave John of Jesus in Chapter 1. 

— For example, the letter to Ephesus begins “The One who hold the seven stars in His right hand; the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands.” That’s right out of the vision John saw in Chapter 1: “in the middle of the lampstands I saw One like a Son of Man” and he said “in His right hand He held seven stars.” That happens in each one of these letters. — The second, to Thyatira, begins: “The first and the last, who was dead and has come to life, says this.” We saw last week that was what Jesus had said in 1:17-18. 

He does this for each church, in each letter. He reminds them:

— I am the One who hold the seven stars in My right hand.

— I am the first and the last, who was dead and who has come to life

— I am the One who has the sharp, two-edged sword

— I am the One who has eyes like a flame of fire

— I am the One who has the seven Spirits of God

— I am the One who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one will open

— I am the Amen, the faithful and true witness

In every letter, Jesus reminds them who He is. Why does He do this, for every church, no matter what their situation? Because the most important thing to remember in any situation, is who Jesus is! 

This is what Jesus was showing His disciples as He walked with them in His ministry here on earth:

— When they were in the storm in the boat, He was the One who could say “hush” and calm it

— When they needed fish in their nets or food for the crowd, He was the One who could provide it

— When they faced demons, He could cast them out

— When they needed direction, He could show them the way

— When they needed grace and forgivenes, He would give it!

Through walking with Him day by day for three years, they began to see that Jesus was the answer, for whatever situation they found themselves in.

As you can imagine, our church has a lot of keys. Not as many as we had accumulated in the old building — I don’t know if I’d ever seen that many keys before in my whole life! But we’ve got a few here. Some keys only open the outside doors; some open the A/V room or the safe or other things. But there is one key, the Master Key, which will open ANY door in this whole church.

The “Master Key” — think of that as Jesus. He’s the “Master,” right? Jesus is the Master. He is the KEY to any situation you face! 

Here’s a problem: many of us — even as Christians — tend to think of Jesus as the answer to our salvation. We come to the time in our life when we realize that we have sinned and separated ourselves from God, and then we hear that Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins and rose from the dead, as we saw last week. So we repent of our sins, and ask Him to be our Lord & Savior.  We turn to Jesus and “get saved” — but then after that, sometime we think we’re now just kind of “on our own.” Jesus saved us, but now we just have to “make our own way” through life. 

That couldn’t be further from the case. Jesus is the answer in every situation. We need to turn to him for everything:

When we’re sick, He’s the Healer

When we need something, He’s the Provider

When we need direction, He’s the Way

When we’re in the storm, He’s the One who can “hush” it

When we need forgiveness, He’s the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 

When we’re facing death, He’s the Resurrection and the Life.

In any situation we’re in, Jesus is the answer we need. We need to look to Jesus, and we need to KEEP looking to Jesus. (Now sometimes He will show us someone, or provide for us something that will help, like He did with the little boy who had the loaves and the fishes to help His disciples. But it all comes from HIM.) We need to turn to Him, for everything.  

THE single most important thing we can remember in any situation, is who Jesus is.  

So Jesus reminds the churches — and He reminds us here: this is who I am. Do not forget who I am. And who He is, is Who you need, in every situation you face. 


Every one of these letters from Jesus to His churches begins, “I know.”

That is important.  The King of Kings says, “I know.”

In the immediate aftermath of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, there was a LOT of uncertainty in the United States.

General George Marshall, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff was leaving the White House when a presidential adviser asked him about conflicting rumors they were hearing about what was going on in Hawaii. Marshall said, Every war has its rumors, and sometimes it’s impossible for anyone to distinguish between myth and reality. He explained: “We’re now in the fog of battle.” (William Manchester, The Glory and the Dream, p. 315) 

In all honestly, the U.S. general in charge, did not really know what was going on at that point!

And that’s how we are as human beings. Our knowledge is very limited.

But King Jesus is never in “the fog of battle”! He doesn’t need us to “report in” for Him to know anything. He says “I know.” Over and over to each of the seven churches He says, “I KNOW”!  

— He told the church at Philadelphia; I know your good deeds as your going through the open door I’ve given you.

— He told the church at Ephesus: I know all these good things that you’ve done — and He also said: I know that you’ve left your first love! 

He knows the good AND the bad. He knows our situations and circumstances:

— He told the church at Thyatira I know your tribulation

— He told the church at Pergamum, I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is!

He knows our circumstances. He knows our situation. HE KNOWS!

One of the things we learned in our Simply Prayer class was how we need to be praying ALL of the time: “pray without ceasing,” etc., and we DO need to do that. But we are NOT to pray without ceasing because we need to somehow “keep God informed on what is going on.” HE ALREADY KNOWS! 

He knows everything about you: He knows all the good, and He knows all the bad. He knows about your circumstances; you don’t need to explain that to Him. He knows your tribulations, and the difficult things you are goiing through. HE KNOWS! Anything there is to know about you — ANYTHING — Jesus already knows. 

He knows everything about our church in the same way. And every church. He knows everything. To each one of the seven churches — and to each of us as individuals, Jesus says: “I know.” “I know”!


Jesus doesn’t just “know” all about us. Because He knows, He has a message that He wants to give us, that is based on what He knows about us.  

Lord willing we will see next week, how what Jesus knew about the church at Ephesus led to the message that He shared with them. It was a message just for them. He commended them for their strengths; but He also knew what their greatest weakness was, and He gave them the message, specifically for them, that was just what they really needed.

This reminds us that God is not just some God “way up there” who doesn’t know or care anything about us. That’s some people’s view of God:   “When asked on a visit to Jerusalem if he believed in the existence of God, the famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking is reported to have replied that he did ‘believe in the existence of God, but that this Divine force established the laws of nature and physics and after that does not enter to control the world.” (Roy Varghese, Preface, p. XXIII, Anthony Flew, There Is A God) That’s called “Deism”: God made the world, but He doesn’t personally interact with His creation, or communicate with it.

But here Jesus shows us here that He DOES interact with us; He DOES communicate with us. He had a personal word for these churhches — and He has a personal word for US. We need to pay attention to that! 

Unfortunately, some of y’all are probably like me: if I see on my computer the notification that I have an email: the graphic in the shape of an envelope with the red letter “1” on it — it’s hard for me not to click on it and see what it is. (Actually I think the tech companies are kind of “training” us: whenever we see that little red “1”, we’re like Pavlov’s dog, we feel compelled to respond to it: “Who is it? Who has a message for me?” So we immediately click on it.

But here’s the thing: JESUS has a message for YOU every day. Every day you get up, you ought to feel like you have a big red “1” lit up on the screen of your life: “You’ve got mail!” — from Jesus every day!  The Lord has something to say to you today. We should feel more compelled to get what HE has to say to us, than any other message we get from anyone. The Lord of the universe has something to say to YOU — which is perfectly tailored to the needs of your life. Like He did with these churches, He will tell you what you’re doing right, as well as where you need to improve. He has a word for every church; and He has a word for every person. And we ought to be chomping at the bit to see what He has to say to use every morning! We should get up first thing every morning, and “check our mail” from Jesus. He has something to say to you!  And we’ll be looking at some of what He is saying us, over the next seven weeks in these seven letters.  


Then each of these letters ends with “He who overcomes …” and then Jesus promises them something if they do.  The word “overcome” here is the Greek Bible word Nikao, which means: “conquer, prevail, overcome.” 

Anybody recognize this brand of running shoe?

Of course it is NIKE, right? The reason I show that is that the name of this brand, NIKE, is from this Greek word “nikao,” which means “winner, victor, overcomer”! Whether you like the NIKE shoe company or not, it’s a well-chosen name: “winner”; “overcomer” is a good name for a sports shoe!

And Greek scholars tell us that the verb implies a contest or a BATTLE, in which one comes off victorious. So Jesus is reminding the churches here: you are in a battle. He says this to each one of them: “to him who OVERCOMES.” He’s saying, you’re in a battle, church. Everything is not going to be easy. But you’ve got to struggle, and fight, and overcome.

Jesus’ words here were SO applicable to the churches in the time that He was writing; they really had some things to endure:

— In a couple of weeks we’ll see where Jesus told the church at Smyrna that “the devil is about to cast some of you into prison” and they were about to be tested. 

— In :13 He talks to the church at Pergamum about how one of them was put to death for his faith. He told them “Satan dwells” among you! 

The members of these churches had some things they needed to overcome.

And He’s reminding us personally of that too. We’re all in a battle. We all have things to overcome. We’ve talked about this before: many of us just want life to be easy, we want to just “coast down the stream” like we’re in a “lazy river” water park. But the truth is, life isn’t like that. God would be lying to tell you that;  I would be lying to tell you that. Life is a battle: it’s a battle against “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” Life is a battle. Many of you know that very well!  But Jesus says, Fight the battle! Overcome. 

Real winners are not those who never had any problems. Real winners are people who had problems and overcame them.  There are just things in life that we have to overcome. And they are not easy; they are hard.

But to those who DO overcome, Jesus promises things in each of the seven letters:

— “To him who overcomes I will grant to eat of the tree of life”

— “He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death”

— “He who overcomes will sit down with Me on My throne” and so on.

He’s reminding them: you’re in a battle — but it will be worth it in the end. “Fight the good fight of faith” as Paul tells Timothy (I Tim. 6:12)

But the point is, Jesus promises some amazing things — but the things He promises are only for those who OVERCOME! We’ve got to realize that we are in a battle, and “fight the good fight of faith” and not give up! Be a victor; an “overcomer”! No, you can’t do it on your own — and He doesn’t ask you to do it on your own. He will walk with you, and help you, if you will walk with Him and ask for His help every day in prayer. He’ll help you to be an overcomer.

VI.  THE ADMONITION: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” 

This is a powerful, and almost ominous word: He says, if you’ve got ears, you’d better listen to what He is saying. These churches needed to listen. OUR church, and others today need to listen. And you and I personally need to listen as well. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” This is JESUS speaking. We’d better pay attention to what He is saying! 

Back in my first pastorate in Oklahoma City, I was reading my Bible one morning. I was in the Book of Proverbs, and like we all probably are some mornings, I was a bit drowsy, and, sad to say, I nodded off while I was reading my Bible. All of the sudden I felt like I heard a little voice say “Shawn!” — and I jumped back awake. I didn’t see anyone nearby, so I looked down to read the next verse, which was Proverbs 4:20, and it said: “My son, pay attention to My words”!

Needless to say, that was literally an “eye-opener” for me! “Pay attention to My words.” 

That’s what Jesus was saying to the members of the seven churches in Revelation. That’s what He is saying to our church TODAY. And that’s what Jesus is saying to YOU, and to ME today as well: “Pay attention to My words.” If you have ears, you’d better hear what Jesus is saying to the churches. So that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to spend some time over the next 7 weeks, looking at what Jesus said to each of those seven churches — and what He is saying there to US as well! 

And we’d better pay attention to it. Like He said to them: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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1 Response to “Jesus’ Letters To His Churches” (Revelation 2 & 3 sermon)

  1. Weldon Fallaw says:

    Thanks for some deep insights.
    I enjoy your messages and really benefitted from your Lifeway commentaries!

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