SERMON Christ in the midst of His church Rev 2-3.
Last week we spent some time looking at the Apostle John’s glorious vision of the Lord Jesus
Christ, as we see Him described in chapter 1, verses 12-16. Let us just read those verses again:
“Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden
lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a
garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were
white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as
if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven
stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun
shining in its strength.”
The vision of Christ that is presented to us here is that of the mighty and glorious King of all the
universe. We saw that He is the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies of Daniel chapter 7. He
is the One like the Son of Man, coming in the clouds to take possession His everlasting kingdom. At
the same time He is also the Ancient of Days, the Creator and Ruler of the universe, without
beginning and without end, with His head and hair that are white like wool, as white as snow,
coming to sit in His fiery throne, as the books are about to be opened for judgement. He is truly God
and truly Man, and He is unutterably glorious in both those natures.
We saw in His long garment and the golden band around His chest the garments of our great High
Priest, the one who has offered His own self as a sacrifice on our behalf, a sacrifice that is truly
efficacious and sufficient, never needing to be repeated. Then we saw that He is also our Prophet,
with the sharp two-edged sword of His word going out of His mouth, that most wonderful and
gracious word, without which no man can be saved. Yet that sword is sharp for a reason, for that
word is also judgement and condemnation to those who reject it; and so there is good reason to fear
His eyes like a flame of fire, which see to the depths of our wicked souls, and His feet like brass,
glowing as if refined in a furnace, with which He tramples down the wicked. And when we look
upon His countenance, shining like the sun in its strength, our reaction surely ought to be that of the
apostle John, who fell at His feet as dead, stricken with holy fear at the vision of Christ’s power and
glory and justice, knowing himself to be unworthy to stand in the presence of Almighty God, the
King and the Judge of all.
This is the fearfully powerful and glorious vision of Christ that was presented to us last week, when
we looked at those verses. But there is one aspect of that vision that we did not consider at that time,
and it is a very significant one. We read in 1:12: “And having turned I saw seven golden
lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man…” And verse 20
goes on: “The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden
lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which
you saw are the seven churches.”
So we have this glorious vision of Christ, as we have seen, but this picture is not complete until we
consider where He is standing. And where He is standing is in the midst of the seven golden
lampstands, the seven churches to which the book is to be sent, as we saw back in verse 11:
Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. This is an integral part
of the vision. When we picture Christ coming in triumph, as the glorious King and Judge, that
picture is not complete unless it also includes Him being in the midst of the golden candlesticks, His
And so this is what we will be concentrating on this morning – Christ in the midst of His church. In
chapters 2 and 3, which we read this morning, we see how He interacts with His church, and what
He has to say to us. And so we will be looking at those. But I only intend to take a very broad
overview of these chapters this morning – a birds-eye view, rather than a detailed one. There is so
much in these two chapters that we could easily spend weeks and weeks on them, going through in
detail what Christ says to each of the seven churches. But I would rather leave that for some other
So then, let us come to consider Christ in the midst of the lampstands: His church.
1. Christ in the midst of the lampstands.
2. Christ holding the seven stars in His hand.
3. Christ speaking to the seven churches.
a. Praise and rebuke.
1. Christ in the midst of the lampstands.
As I said a moment ago, this is an integral part of this glorious vision of Christ. We have this picture
of Christ standing there, surrounded by these seven golden lampstands, which represent not only the
seven churches that are named, but all the church in all the world in every age until the return of
There are many lessons that we can derive from this picture. We might begin by noting that the
lampstands are golden. In other words, they are of great worth to Christ! They are precious! And so
the church ought to be, for it is the church that Christ purchased with His own blood! It is easy
sometimes to undervalue the church. We see it with all its faults and weaknesses, filled with sinners
and sometimes hypocrites, sometimes damaged by divisions, sometimes infected with heresies,
sometimes beginning to slide down the slippery slope to apostasy, and we can begin to focus on
everything that is wrong with it. Certainly that is what the world is very prone to do, but often
Christians can have the same sort of attitude. Yet to Christ His churches are golden lampstands, of
great worth. And if that is the way He views the church, surely we should do the same!
But then we might note further that Christ must always be central to the church. There are churches
so-called where this is no longer the case, where Christ has been pushed so far to one side that He
has departed altogether. For some the centre of the church has become the people in it, and the
people in the community, and the planet that we live on, so that they strive to do good and make the
world a better place – but Christ is no longer important! That is no longer a church! The church
must have Christ in its midst, or it is no church at all!
Perhaps the most important thing to note here, thought, is that Christ walks amongst His church. In
other words, He is always watching us, always supervising us, always hearing everything we say
and seeing everything we do. It is because He is in the midst of His church that He is able to address
each congregation in intimate detail, as we shall go on to consider. He knows His church! He knows
everything about us! We are His, and we are an open book to Him! He knows all there is to know
about this congregation here in Toowoomba! He walks in our midst, and sees us as we truly are,
both what is good and what is wrong, both the gold and the dross. He is in our midst! He knows us!
And this is both our greatest encouragement and our greatest source of shame. It is our shame,
because Christ sees all our sins. He sees every time we break His law. He sees every time we put
our own pleasure before His service. He sees every time we act ashamed of Him, being timid when
we ought to be bold. He sees every time our actions do not match our profession. Christ is walking
amongst us, seeing everything of which we ought to be ashamed.
But on the other hand, Christ is WITH us! Christ is with US! We are not left alone – our Lord is
here with us! We need not fear what the world might do – for Christ is here with us! You might
remember the servant of the prophet Elisha in the Old Testament. In 2 Kings 6 we read how the
king of Syria wanted to capture this troublesome prophet who kept warning the king of Israel about
the military plans of the Syrians. So he sent an army by night and surrounded the town of Dothan,
where Elisha was. In the morning the people of the city saw the army, and Elisha’s servant was
terrified, saying “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” Then we read in verses 16-17: “So he
answered, ‘Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ And
Elisha prayed, and said, ‘Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the
eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire
all around Elisha.” You see, Christ is with us all the time, like that! He walks in the midst of His
lampstands, leading and comforting and teaching us, and especially protecting and preserving us!
With Christ on our side, walking in our midst, the glorious, powerful King and Judge of all the
earth, we need never fear any other!
2. Christ holding the seven stars in His hand.
In this regard, we can be all the more encouraged when we come to the other part of this picture that
we have not yet considered – the seven stars in Christ’s right hand. In verse 20 these are explained:
“The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands:
The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are
the seven churches.” And we then find, in chapters 2 and 3, that on each occasion Christ addresses
the angel of each church.
The question arises, who are these angels? It seems unlikely that they are the heavenly beings that
normally take that title. When we consider that the Greek word translated “angel” actually means
“messenger”, and when we see that each of these angels is associated with a particular church, it
seems better to take it that each of these is actually the pastor or elder leading that particular church.
And so, when we follow this through, we see that not only does Christ walk in the midst of His
church, as represented by the seven golden lampstands, He also holds the leaders of His church in
His right hand, as represented by the seven stars. He takes an intimate interest, not only in the
affairs of congregations as a whole, but in their pastors and elders and deacons in particular. And
this also should be a cause of great thanks and rejoicing for us. It is certainly a source of great
comfort for all who do lead in the church, to think that Christ Himself holds them in His hand.
When He appoints men to lead His people, He does not just give them the gifts that they need; He
does not content Himself with calling them to their office; no, He also holds each one in His hand.
It is an inestimable privilege to hold office in Christ’s church, because He takes a peculiar interest
in all who do so.
But again, it is also a challenge. These men are called stars. Stars are to shine out, to be a beacon of
light, and surely that describes very well what those of us who lead ought to be. And it is therefore
to our greater shame whenever that light is dimmed. It is shameful whenever any of Christ’s people
hide their light under a bushel, but it is especially so when those who ought to shine forth as stars do
so. And so we need to pray all the more for our pastors and elders and deacons in their work. One of
the great encouragements I have found since being here in Toowoomba is how often I hear myself
being prayed for in our prayer meetings and Bible studies. Continue to pray for us, here in this
congregation, and for all our elders and deacons throughout all our congregations. Pray that Christ’s
stars might shine brightly, and give thanks that He holds them in His hand.
3. Christ speaking to the seven churches.
We come then, finally, to considering Christ’s words to the seven churches. And as I said before, it
is not my intention to go through these two chapters in detail here, but rather to give us a birds-eye
view of what is happening here.
Now, if you read through each of these seven addresses to the seven churches, you will find that
there is a very recognisable pattern in what Christ says to each of them.
o Each of them is addressed to the angel of the church – that is, the pastor, as we have seen.
o There follows a reference to some attribute of Christ, as has just been revealed in this vision of
o There is then praise, followed by rebuke; some of both, in most cases, but Smyrna and
Philadelphia receive only praise, and Laodicea only rebuke.
o There follows an exhortation.
o Finally, there is a word of promise to those who overcome, and a command to “hear what the
Spirit says to the churches.”
There are so many lessons and applications we can draw out of all these, but for today we will
content ourselves to take notice of three things.
a. Praise and rebuke.
The first thing we should notice is how exactly and completely Christ knows His church. He sees
each of these churches for what they really are. And He speaks to them accordingly. Take the
church at Ephesus, for instance, the church where John himself had been not so very long ago. He
heaps praise upon them. They are faithful servants of Christ, labouring diligently for Him. They are
concerned for the truth, they have tested the false teachers and found them to be liars. They have
patience and perseverance, and have not grown weary in well-doing. All in all, they sound like a
wonderful church! No pastor would be likely to complain, who had the care of such a church! And
if Christ had stopped there, what a marvellous testimony they would have had! But then He goes on
and says: “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” And all of a
sudden everything that seemed so wonderful and good seems now to count for nothing, in the face
of this terrible statement. It is a fierce, terrible indictment! Imagine if a husband were to say this to
his wife, or a wife to her husband! None of the other’s service for them would outweigh those
words – you have left your first love! And so He calls upon them to repent. He speaks very strongly
to them – “repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your
lampstand from its place – unless you repent.” Christ sees them in their true situation, for what
they really are.
And this is just the same for the other six churches. Philadelphia is given unreserved praise for he
faithfulness. The people of Smyrna are told that they are truly rich, being ready to literally give their
lives for Christ. The church in Sardis, though, is dead, even though it has a good reputation, a name
that it is alive. The church in Pergamos is compromising with false doctrine. The church in Thyatira
is allowing sexual immorality to creep into the church. The church in Laodicea has become
spiritually proud. And Christ sees all these things!
The question for us then becomes: What would Christ say of us, if we were one of those seven
churches? I do not know – but I can guess that it might not be what we expected. I imagine that very
few of the Ephesians would have thought themselves a loveless church. Very few of the people in
Sardis would have considered their church to be on the point of spiritual death. They would have
been humbled and chastened to read these words. On the other hand, I doubt that those in
Philadelphia and Smyrna would have thought of themselves as highly as Christ did. Probably,
therefore, Christ would not necessarily say the things of us that we might expect. And so we ought
to be challenged, therefore, by these words to the seven churches, to look at ourselves all over
again. What are we really, as a church? Are we deserving of praise, or of rebuke? Let us pray that
God would graciously reveal us to ourselves!
Secondly, there is exhortation. Thus the people of Smyrna are exhorted to remain faithful until
death. The people of Thyatira are told to stand fast, to hold fast what they have. The people of
Sardis are counselled to be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die.
And Ephesus, Pergamos, Sardis and Laodicea are all warned to repent before it is too late.
What we see here, therefore, is that Christ, the great King and Head of the church, not only reveals
us to ourselves, He expects us to act on that. His word is given to us for a reason. We need to know
that even the best of churches, like Ephesus, can lose its first love of Christ. We need to know that
spiritual pride can lead to a complete lack of understanding of our spiritual poverty, as it did for the
Laodiceans. And we also need to know that even the most corrupt of churches, like Thyatira, might
have those within it who have nevertheless been kept by grace from falling into that corruption.
These insights into the things that can affect churches are given to us for a reason. And the reason
is, that where we find sin, we might repent of it. Where we find a lack of love, we are to repent of
that. Where we find spiritual pride, we are to repent of that. And where we find that, by God’s
grace, there is that within the church that is holy and courageous and good, we are to hold onto that,
and cultivate it.
And of course, all these things apply just as well to us all as individuals. Christ gives us these
warnings and exhortations so that we might examine ourselves. We need to do this so often. We
should not be blasé about our spiritual state. We should not be content to be shallow, just drifting
along, never really examining ourselves. Christ gave these words to the churches, not only for their
warning, but for ours. These exhortations are not only for them to listen to, they are for us.
Lastly, I want us to just look briefly at the words of promise that are here. To each church, at some
point in the letter come the words “He who overcomes”, or “To him who overcomes”. And the
promises associated with those statements are some of the most beautiful in Scripture. Have a listen
to these promises:
Verse 7, to the Ephesians: “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in
the midst of the paradise of God.”
Verse 11, to the Smyrniots: “He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”
Verse 17, to those of Pergamos: “To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to
eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows
except him who receives it.”
Verses 26-28, to those of Thyatira: “He who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I
will give power over the nations – ‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to
pieces like the potter’s vessels’ – and I will give him the morning star.”
3:5, to those of Sardis: “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot
out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before his
3:12, to the Philadelphians: “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God,
and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My
God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him
My new name.”
3:21, to the Laodiceans: “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also
overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”
As I said, they are wonderful promises. But who are they for? “He who overcomes”. In other
words, they are for the one who holds fast his or her faith till the end. They are for the one who is
faithful until death, as Christ told those of Smyrna to be. They are for those who are completely and
utterly given over to Christ – those who love Him, and are horrified at the thought of that love
waning. They are for those who are waiting for the return of Christ the glorious King. Even now He
walks about in the midst of the golden lampstands, His church. He knows everything about every
church, and also about every person in them. He knows everything about you. He knows whether
you are repentant for your sins or not. He knows whether you really love Him or not. He knows
whether you are trusting in His death and resurrection to save you from your sins, or not. He is here
with us now, and He knows what He is to you. Examine yourself, therefore, and seek Him with all
your heart, so that at His coming you may be found to be among those who have overcome, and
receive all the promises that are theirs.