Revelation Chapter 3: 14-22
“And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: ‘I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.
“Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.
“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore, be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. 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. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the church in Philadelphia. This church had a small amount of strength and an open door to move the Gospel into the Far East. If we are to be honest, we all have just a small bit of strength to take on the tasks and open doors that come into our lives just about every day. I love to share the Gospel, but still wonder every now and then how people will take it once they hear the truth.
Today, we will look at the last part of the church age, the Laodicean age. As I have mentioned before, all of the seven types of churches mentioned in these chapters existed all the way through the church age; but there is dominant church in each age and in our time, the time just before the Rapture. The dominant church is that with the characteristics of the Laodicean church.
We first meet the church at Laodicea in Colossians 2. The apostle Paul mentions her in chapter 2:1, and says that he has a conflict for the church at Colosse and for the church at Laodicea. The church at Laodicea had not seen the apostle in the flesh; and he appeared to be in a conflict, a struggle really, with himself or his schedule to try and get to them. The letter to the church at Colosse was written in the mid-50s of the first century; so when the apostle John writes this letter to the church in Laodicea, they would have been in existence for some 50 years, or close to it.
Thus, the Lord Jesus was not addressing some new struggling work who was trying to find her way in a morally challenged society. She was a seasoned church who was where she was by choice.
Parents have a way of trying to make sure that their children do not go through the same struggles that they did; and in so doing they rob their children of great blessings and strength. We tend to try to replace character with things, and this is not possible. It is the struggle that makes us strong; it is the hardships that build drive and determination; it is the failures that build a strong mind and calloused shoulders. We don’t have a lot of this in churches today.
The church at Philadelphia was weak; she had just a little strength. In contrast, the church at Laodicea had a lot of stuff; they were ‘rich and wealthy’ and in need of nothing. The church at Philadelphia had to depend wholeheartedly on God; only He could open the doors that needed to be opened. And as such, the church would know that they were doing the will of God. The church at Laodicea could simply open any door she wanted without asking God. She has money and power and simply did as she pleased. But let us be clear that, even in this state, she is still addressed as a church by her Lord and Master.
There are no perfect churches. There are churches that are better than others and maybe do more than others, but each church will answer to the Lord as an entity. There is no Universal church. There never has been one; and when there is one, we will be in the Millennium when all the churches are united in one body to the Lord. But until then, each church is a local, autonomous body that is wholly answerable to the Lord for how she executes His work.
Jesus, the standard for us, Revelation Chapter 3, verse 14
Jesus will present to us a stark contrast to the church at Laodicea. Their witness is not true; they present themselves as blessed by God with their material possessions and business. They look to be very alive and active, but they are really near death, and their activity is not led by the Lord. In contrast, Jesus is the “Amen” – the ‘so be it.’ His word is final and cannot be altered. Jesus is also the “Faithful and True Witness” – what you see is what you get. There are no ulterior or deceptive motives with Him. Jesus, unlike the church at Laodicea, was and is faithful. He can be trusted to do exactly what He says He will do. He is also the ‘Beginning of Creation,’ not that He was the first created, but that He is the Creator.
The word that is used for beginning in the Greek is used for the word Ruler or Source; thus, Jesus is the source of the Creation; He is not created. Jesus was establishing His position to be able to judge this church. He was the contrast to all that they were at this point. They needed to take note and to be reminded of who he was and is.
Sometimes as a church we need to get back to the basics of the fundamental doctrines of the Lord and the Bible:
Jesus is the Creator; Sustainer; Provider; the First and the Last; the Author and Finisher of our faith; the First Fruit of the resurrection; the Alpha and Omega; the Life; the Truth; the Way. He is both the Lamb of God and Lion of Judah; He is the King of Israel and the Master of the Universe. Jesus is the ‘I AM’ of the Old Testament and the Vine to whom all the branches (saved) of the world at this present time are connected. He is our indwelling Holy Spirit, and He is our Advocate in Heaven. Jesus is God in the Flesh and the God that cannot be contained at the same time.
We need to get back to a clear and unabridged vision of Jesus in all His glory. Every other truth will flow out of this correct vision. The Bible will make more sense; the world will make less sense. And when we seek to live, we will seek to live by His words and ways.
Verse 15 is a sobering reminder: “I know your works.” As we approach the end of the church age, there is this reminder that we will all give an account of our lives after salvation to the Lord. We will stand and answer to Him for the life that He redeemed for us. What did we do with it? This truth should challenge us to live correctly before the Lord and others as well. We do not like to be held accountable for things, but we will be. We should be running a moment-by-moment diagnostic on ourselves, our motives and our desire before the Lord, checking them against the revealed truth of the Bible as best we can.
The Lies we tell ourselves, Revelation Chapter 3, verses 17
We will look at the lukewarm attitude in a bit; but right now we need to see the idea of how the people saw themselves. This perception is what festers the attitude.
When we look at the commentaries on this, we find that Laodicea was a wealthy town; it was the or at least one of the towns for the worship of Caesar. Also, it was the center of healing with the temple to Asklepios and the medical school attached to this worship. In AD 60 when the city was devastated by an earthquake, they refused help from Rome, stating that they did not need help from anyone. The church in Laodicea had the same attitude with regards to God’s help.
See a quote from the Roman historian Tacitus.
After an earthquake devastated the region in A.D. 60, Laodicea refused Imperial help to rebuild the city, successfully relying on their own resources. They didn’t need outside help, they didn’t ask for it, and they didn’t want it. “Laodicea was too rich to accept help from anyone. Tacitus, the Roman historian, tells us: ‘Laodicea arose from the ruins by the strength of her own resources, and with no help from us.’” (Barclay)
This city was a self-made and self-redeemed city, and the local church was filled with people of the same mind and mentality. Now you will understand with more clarity the attitude in the Lord’s church. The attitude of ‘we are rich and don’t need your help’ was around them all the time. Prosperity was perceived as strength and poverty as weakness.
Today, many people walk into a poor church with no band, no PowerPoint system, no large screen TVs, and a rented or borrowed facility, and they cannot imagine that this church could be used by God. So, they go and look for the prosperity that looks like spiritual success. This is not to say that all ‘rich’ churches are like Laodicea, but many are. If a poor church sees an opportunity to minister, they have to seek the Lord’s guidance and obvious help to do it. They have limited resources; and as such, God has to clearly make the path open for them. He almost has to be overly obvious for them. But a rich church can simply walk into any door they want without asking for God’s guidance.
In Acts 16:6-10 we find that it is God who opens and closes doors; and when we see an open door, God decides if we are to enter it or not.
“Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
Notice that the apostle and his crew sought to go into Mysia but they were not permitted to do so. The reason was that God wanted them in Macedonia, and then God showed them that. This is very important for us to know; the ministry of the Gospel is the Lord’s ministry. He will send us where He wants us to go at the time He wants us to go. This dependency was lost on the church at Laodicea, and it is lost on a lot of our churches today, and even a lot of us as followers of Jesus.
We, both as individuals and churches, are simply vessels who serve at the behest of our Master. Any self-reliance is idolatry, and self-reliance was rampant in the church at Laodicea.
Lukewarm, Revelation Chapter 3, verses 15-16
Most people who have spent any time in the Bible or have heard a sermon about making a decision have heard about the lukewarm church. The idea of Jesus vomiting out these people is a hard visual reference to omit. Some of the people in this church were obviously saved, obviously trying to serve the Lord. Jesus addressed them as a church, His church. Jesus loved these people; He says so in verse 19. The only reason to “rebuke and chasten” them was because He loved them. The issue here was not worldliness as many want to preach, but that of reliance. This church was self-reliant and did not need Jesus to make it happen. They could do it on their own.
They probably had good intentions. They were doing the work of a church, maybe even evangelizing, feeding the poor, caring for the weak, and on and on; but they were doing it in their own power and without the leadership of the Holy Spirit. This is the lukewarm attitude that Jesus hates. If you are going to be a philanthropic organization, then do so and stop pretending to be a church. If, however, you are going to be a church, then let Jesus in so He can run the place, since He is the Head of the local church anyway.
You see, all of the good works we do without the leadership and Lordship of Jesus is just ‘wood, hay and stubble’ and will burn up. But whatever we do by, through and of Jesus is forever and will stand up to the judgment of God.
Jesus encourages the people in Laodicea to “be zealous and repent;” and obviously some did – as we, the Lord’s churches, are still here doing the work. We need to make sure that all we do is led by Jesus, called by Jesus, empowered by Jesus, and all for Jesus. There are no self-made Christians. Those who think they are self-made are lost. They are without Jesus.
A church is made up of people that could not save themselves, cannot sustain their salvation apart from Jesus, and should be sold out to Him in every endeavor.
Colossians 3: 16-17 “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
Following Jesus is not just about being saved; it is the beginning of a lifelong journey of us simply following Him and surrendering any power over our lives. This same attitude should flow into the Lord’s churches. Even the rich ones should be careful to make sure Jesus is leading the way as we follow. Remember: He is the Head, the Power, the Life, and the very Breath of each New Testament church.