Verse 14 “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:
This letter to the Laodicean church marks the last of seven messages, sent to the seven churches of Asia from our Lord. It opens with the same opening statement as the previous six letters to the six other churches, “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write” (verse 1a). As in the other letters to the other churches we must understand that John is not being directed to send an angel of his own accord, but rather to write a letter that the Lord will send by way of an angel. The word used here in Greek (Ang’-el-os), actually meant a messenger. John was to send his letter to the Laodicean church by a messenger, something the apostles customarily did (II Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25). But as the revelation opens a window to heaven, and the inner workings of the Lord as it regards His church, we are at once made to understand that it is He that sends a heavenly messenger to His church (Acts 7:51-53; Heb. 2:1-4; Rev. 1:1,2).
This letter, along with the others in Revelation (1:11), is addressed to a local church in the Asian city of Laodicea which is now modern day Turkey. The church of Laodicea was mentioned briefly by Paul in his epistle to the Colossians a number of years before John’s letter was written (Col. 4:13-16). Colosse, Laodicea, and Hieropolis were three cities located in the Lycus valley, and were sister churches of a sort. This is evident by the fact that Paul instructed two of the churches mentioned to exchange letters he had written to each of them. Paul’s remark in the Colossian letter is also instructive in that it reveals they may have shared some of the same issues at the time. If this is so, then a reading of Colossians will give us insight into some of the theological issues involved which characterized the Laodicean church prior to John’s letter. Paul mentions the name Archippus in verse 17, who was presumably, the pastor of the Laodicean church. Paul’s words to Archippus were, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” These words were said, perhaps to indicate even at that time there were problems associated with the church and its ministry, that if not attended to, would lead to spiritual and moral decline. If this is true, and Archippus failed to heed Paul’s charge, it is conceivable that this would have contributed to the reason behind the letter from John being sent to them at a later time.
The introduction to this letter shows the message to be direct from our Lord Jesus Christ to His church. Here, as in the other six letters Jesus introduces Himself to the church in a descriptive manner suited to the particular message that followed, “These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God” (verse 1b). Jesus is the affirmation of everything that is true of God. Jesus is in Himself the objective reality of the unseen and otherwise unknowable Deity, God incarnate. John used the symbol of Logos (Gr. Word) to set this forth in his writings about Jesus (John 1:1,14; I John 5:7; Rev. 19:13). The meaning of the term “amen” is to affirm the truth; this is why Jesus instructed us to conclude our prayers, provided they conform to the will of God, with an amen. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He said, “In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.” (Matt. 6:9). And they were to close with these words, “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (Matt. 6:13c).
Jesus applies this meaning to Himself when He defines Himself as the “Amen.” Jesus is “the Faithful and True Witness” of God to His people, His church. Therefore, it is imperative that they listen when He speaks, and furthermore, do as He says. This letter is introduced in this way so that the Laodiceans understand that John does not speak to them on his authority, but it is Christ, the Head of the church that speaks. Jesus’ use of these terms to describe Himself also implies that the Laodiceans had a problem with the two concepts of truth and faithfulness. They needed to be set straight about some things.
Jesus further undergirds His authority as the “Amen” of God when He joins to it that He is “the Beginning of the creation of God.” This is exactly how John introduces Jesus as the Word in his gospel, showing that He not only is the Witness of God in creation, but the Creator Himself. John opens in his gospel with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” (John 1:1-3). Why does he do this but to establish at the outset that we are to think of Christ as the absolute Ruler, not only of the church, but of all creation? With this properly considered it must be concluded that there are no pragmatic approaches or opinions that have any place in the Christian church when it comes to its doctrine or operation. The local church is not simply a society of men, a fraternity so to speak, but a microcosm of the kingdom of God. The rule of Christ over creation makes those who profess His name subjects of His kingdom in a special way.
If there were any similarity to be found between the spiritual issues that confronted the church at Colossae, and those of Laodicea, then perhaps a connection may be made between Christ’s words here, and those which Paul wrote there (Col. 1:9-18). The point being made is that Jesus is preeminent over creation, over God’s kingdom, and most certainly over the church. Where spiritual problems abound in the church, there is a lack of knowledge, a lack of understanding this foundational reality.
Verses 15-17 “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 —
This letter compared to the other six is perhaps the most disconcerting of them all in terms of Christ’s complaint toward it. This is due to the fact that unlike the other six churches which exhibited some clear points of commendation from the Lord, this one church elicited only condemnation. The “True and Faithful Witness” of God is also a perfect judge of all the affairs of His church and its people. Jesus says to the Laodiceans “I know your works.” As God, Jesus is Omniscient, knowing not only the works of a church and its people, but every motivation behind them, whether they are good or bad. We are informed through the apostle Paul that the works of the Lord’s ministers in the church will come into judgement some day, being tested by fire, whether it is of Him or not (I Cor. 3:13). If this is true of ministers, how much more so of each member of the church (I Cor. 3:14,15)? For the Lord has made it clear that those who love Him are to keep His commandments, and that the church’s collective efforts in the making of disciples include their observation of His every command (John 14:15,21; Matt. 28:19,20).
Of course, Jesus is not talking about works as they concern salvation. An antinomian spirit was certainly present among some of the other churches of Asia, as can be ascertained by His complaints toward them to this effect (Rev. 2:6,14,15,20). Antinomianism is the belief that a Christian saved by grace from their sin has no obligation to keep the law, hence, the term “anti” or, no, and “nomian” or, law keeping. Certain Gnostic sects claiming to be Christian troubled the church saying that salvation was of the spirit, therefore, the flesh may indulge itself in sin. There are also two variations of antinomianism, one that is theological in nature, the other that is practical. The works Jesus is speaking of here are not works of righteousness for salvation, but works of obedience in sanctification.
The works of a church are then twofold in nature. The first being the collective works of a church and its ministry, and the second being the individual works of its members. The aggregate of the later usually determines that of the former to a great extent in most situations. Make no mistake about it. A church is the totality of its people, not the Minister. A good example of this is seen in Paul’s complaint to the Galatian church on their infidelity to Christ. He says this to them, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” (Gal. 1:6,7). Again, Pauls speaks in a similar fashion to the Corinthians. “For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted — you may well put up with it!” (II Cor. 11:4). So, a church’s willingness to tolerate a bad ministry is actually a reflection of the character of its individual members.
Here, Christ is focusing on something different from the other churches as it concerns the Laodiceans and their works. In three of the other churches, false teaching and immorality are highlighted as the cause of their corrupt works; Pergamos ( 2:14,15); Thyatira (2:20); Sardis (3:4). But the Laodiceans are guilty of something much more subtle and hard to define than false teaching and immorality. Jesus refers to this church as being “lukewarm,” in their works, meaning that they were “neither cold nor hot” in them (Verse 16). The works themselves may have been all right, but the character of them in terms of spiritual quality and substance were in question. This was a direct reflection upon the spiritual quality and substance of the Laodicean members themselves.
There are several ways that the term “lukewarm,” may be understood. Lukewarmness is a degree of warmth that is usually ascribed to something that is room temperature. Food may be room temperature, and as such, it is not very desirable to have served up at a meal. It is possible that the Lord’s complaint is similar to this kind of an example. These may be works that are served up to Him which appear to be right, and therefore, appealing, but are in fact, not very appealing to the taste. Scripture is clear that works may be performed according to the letter of the law, but lack any spiritual motivation to them at all (Rom. 2:29, 7:6; II Cor. 3:6). The Lord requires both of these in His worship and service (John 4:23,24). And lest anyone thinks that there is a difference in substance between Old and New Testament faith, consider what else John has to say about this in his gospel: “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17). The Mosaic institution was indeed law in quality, but the substance of faith in those who were saved was in Jesus Christ. John says “Was,” in the past tense, meaning that salvation through faith in God’s “grace and truth” was actually faith in Jesus Christ. The combination of doctrinal quality joined together with spiritual motivation, or, intensity was commonly referred to by Puritan preachers as “heat and light.” Just as preaching may be served up tasty and hot, so it is with every other work that a Christian, yea, an entire Christian church may offer to the Lord.
Lukewarmness, when it comes to food can also mean something else, it can be the first stage of rottenness. Leave meat out for a day on the table and see what happens. It may still look like meat but you would not want to eat it. Works done according to God’s word, but lacking love for Him and others is nothing but a rotten plate of food served up. This was the complaint given to “Judah and Jerusalem” by the Lord in Isaiah’s day (Is. 1:1ff). The Lord calls the service of the Jews in Jerusalem vain and not what He required of them (Is. 1:11-15). Yet, a review of the things listed in this passage by the Lord, reveal they did observe the temple sacrifices and the feasts just as it had been prescribed to them. So what was the Lord’s complaint then? It was that the Jews were spiritually dead within. There were no faith, no love, and no grace to be found among the people of Judah to sanctify their offerings.
Make no mistake about it, the Lord expects the people in His church to be doing good works, but what is a good work anyway? A work worthy of the adjective good must first be that which the Lord Himself prescribes, not any old thing that might be offered to Him according to our own imagination, as Cain did (Gen. 4:3-7). Cain himself was rejected because he offered the Lord something different from what had been previously prescribed to him as his brother Abel had done. But accuracy concerning our works is not sufficient in and of itself to satisfy the description of a good work. For one thing, a work that is good must be also offered in a right manner unto the Lord, which includes being done in His name and according to who He is. In other words, works offered in the name of Buddah, or Allah, or any other conception of deity are not acceptable to God, even if they are right in every other respect as a good work.
The requirement of doing a work in a right manner however, goes way beyond being done simply in the right name. Jesus told His disciples that there were those who would be rejected on judgement day who actually did good works in His name (Matt. 7:21-23). These disciples, if we may call them that, did many good works in Jesus’ name, the problem was they did not measure up to the standard He set forth of being the Father’s will. The work’s Jesus mentions here all appear to be consistent with those which the other disciples did, namely, preaching the gospel and withstanding spiritual opposition from it in the process. Even the apparent ability to perform miracles is here mentioned too, which could mean that they healed the sick. The problem these disciples encountered in their plea for admittance into the kingdom however, are made clear by Jesus’ response to them. “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Verse 23). These people were graceless in their profession, not having believed in the Lord for their salvation, but believing in the goodness of their works. Good works, done God’s way and in His name without grace is nothing but an offense to Him. God knows His people by the grace He has given them, not by their good works.
Lukewarmness can come from mixing hot and cold together, such as in bath water. Today, we have mixers built into our modern faucets. These replace the old style plumbing which required us to turn on each valve separately, then mix the water together in the tub to achieve the desired temperature. Works can be like temperature valves, one sort hot, and the other cold. If this is so, when mixed together they produce a lukewarm effect depending on the mixture. The mixing of hot and cold works together is most definitely something that Jesus has in view here. We know this because He says so by mentioning the two temperatures, hot and cold together in reference to their works. Many churches are hot when it comes to material things, but cold when it comes to spiritual things.
It is common in modern evangelicalism to see sparsely attended prayer and Bible study meetings. Sunday night worship services have altogether gone the way of Sunday blue laws, extinct and forgotten. Most churches ignore Scripture’s admonition in “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” when it comes even to regular Sunday morning attendance by its membership (Heb. 10:25). Slightly inclement weather, or, especially sunny weather often means empty church sanctuaries in many churches on Sunday. Notice given of a particular visiting preacher come next Sunday is often a Que for some to absent themselves from worship. Also, awareness that a dynamic, well-known speaker is coming to some large church venue far away, results in the same thing. Many people in the local congregation will absent themselves on Sunday to go hear their favorite “pop” speaker elsewhere. These people are the “sermon tasters” as Charles Spurgeon liked to call them. And finally, family invitations given by unregenerate loved ones on Sunday are rarely, if ever, missed by those who are spiritually cold and indifferent to the Lord.
But, when an upcoming church business meeting is announced, watch how many, and who attend it. Suddenly, when it comes to finances, or, various missionary concerns, and especially the Pastor’s salary, now everyone is hot for the meeting. Suddenly, everything else they might be doing on that night gets put aside for this one important date on the calender. In churches that do not practice any semblance of biblical church discipline, it is common for someone joining the church in May, to meet certain members for the first time at the business meeting the following January. And it’s not only an interest in money that often receives such a stirring response from otherwise recalcitrant church members. A pot luck supper or a picnic never goes unattended when put on the schedule. And time is generally no concern in these events like it would be if the Pastor went, say, five minutes over on his sermon or Bible study.
There is one other thing that lukewarmness in a church can indicate. The church, in a broad manner of speaking is a body (Eph. 1:22,23). This is why Scripture calls the church the body of Christ. The church is a living organism with Christ as its head. We understand too, that the church, though it is a single entity consists of different segments related to its present form. There is what we might call the church triumphant, consisting of all those saints which have gone to be with the Lord in glory. But there is also what we call the church militant, consisting of those saints which remain here on earth and are gathered into individual assemblies of local believers, the visible church as opposed to the spiritual church. The visible church is a microcosm of the entire body of Christ. Each local assembly is not a body by itself in that sense. But there is another sense in which the local church is a microcosm, or, representation of the larger organization that exists, in which it can be viewed as a distinct body of believers in a particular place. When a body then is said to be lukewarm, it may be an indication that it is in an early stage of death. Still warm, but nevertheless dead.
There is another church mentioned by the Lord that He says is dead, the church at Sardis (Rev. 3:1). In this church, Christ says their works display activity consistent with life, but it is in fact, not so because the church itself is dead. So then, spiritual deadness is the pronouncement being made against the church of Sardis. There are many churches like this strewn throughout history which have “Ichabod” (the glory has departed) written on their door (I Samuel 4:21). Organizations that were once spiritually vibrant eventually become nothing but shells of their former self after God’s Spirit has departed from them. When this happens, we call them dead just as the Lord does in reference to Sardis. Apparently, there must have been a few souls there that still had some life left in them. Otherwise, the Lord would not even bother speaking to the church at all, for no one speaks to that which is dead. The church at Laodicea was different from Sardis, in that it was called lukewarm rather than dead. This leaves us wondering, at what stage of decline was this church really in? Did Jesus infer by the word “lukewarm” that this church was simply lackadaisical, or, did He mean something worse? A church that is lackadaisical can be revived, but not so with a corpse, even if it is still room temperature. The Lord uses this term saying to them, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.” (Verse 15).
Jesus gives the impression that the state of the Laodicean church was very questionable. If they were hot, but needed correction that would one thing, if they were cold and needed reviving, that would be another thing. When you happen across a lifeless body, the first thing to look for is its vital signs. The temperature of the body, unless it is cold tells you nothing. To use the term “lukewarm” to describe a church is rather disconcerting, because that description must be the worst possible condition to be in. If a church is lukewarm because it is dead, just like a body that is dead, it has only one recourse left to it, and that is to bury it. A church that is alive but has problems in it such as sin and disobedience among its members, it can be brought to repentance, revived and restored. But what can be done for a lukewarm church that is neither “cold or hot.” ? Without any specific work being mentioned here, it is like a sickness which evades diagnosis. If a doctor was unable to diagnose the sickness of his patient, he would be ill advised to recommend a particular treatment until he could pinpoint exactly what was wrong.
Jesus as the great physician of souls seems to be in a quandary here. It is as though the physician is at a loss to determine exactly what is wrong with these folk, for they appear to be neither one thing, nor the other in terms of their condition. Of course, we know that the omniscient Lord is never lacking full comprehension of all that exists within His own domain, that is not the point here. Jesus uses anthropological terminology to convey the idea to us of the dubious state that this church appears to be in. Jesus says to the Laodiceans, “I could wish you were cold or hot.” It is therefore, not for His sake, but for theirs, that Jesus says this to them. For no one who is in neither one state, nor the other will feel their need of anything from someone like Jesus, who is an all sufficient Savior. No one seeks a doctor who deems their condition as fit, only those who are sick and know it will do this (Luke 5:30,31).
The seriousness of the case is further stated when Jesus says to them, “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Verse 16). The religious service offered to Jesus by the Laodiceans was like rotten food served to a distinguished guest that makes them sick to their stomach. The offense involved in doing this is incalculable. What Jesus is saying is that lukewarmness in His church, among His people is completely distasteful to Him! Not only is it distasteful, but Jesus says He rejects such a thing from those who call themselves by His name; “I will vomit you out of My mouth.” And more to the point is this, Jesus rejects not only lukewarmness in His church, but He rejects the church that is lukewarm.
Such a statement as this “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth,” should cause all those who say they are Christ’s in His church to stop for a moment and ask, what is the nature of this threat? Is it possible that Jesus might reject an entire assembly of people who meet in His name, in a particular location to perform religious service over the charge of being lukewarm? That is exactly what Jesus is saying here. Sin is rebellion against God, when an entire church rebels against the Lord, He threatens it with utter rejection. It should be observed that in several of the other churches in Asia that Jesus sent His message too, the same threat is lodged toward them in different words depending on the circumstance. Jesus threatens to remove the lampstand from the Ephesian church (His presence, Rev. 2:5). Jesus threatens to fight against the church at Pergamos with the sword of His mouth (speak judgement, Rev. 2:16). Jesus threatens the church at Thyatira with sickness, tribulation, and death (trial and persecution, Rev. 2:22,23). Jesus threatens the church at Sardis that He will come upon them as a thief unexpectedly (sudden loss, Rev. 3:3).
The reality of these threats is witnessed by the fact that none of these churches exist today in that part of the world (Turkey). Of course, there were two other churches among the seven not threatened who also do not exist today as well. Put together as a whole, the message to us from this is that no local church, although planted by the Lord, can assume to be exempt from His providential judgements.
So what is the unspecified sin against the Lord at issue here that led the Laodicean church into a state of lukewarmness? Each one of the other churches had their specific sin(s) spelled out, but in the charge here against the Laodiceans of being lukewarm, it appears to be vague. The Lord gives the reason for His complaint from their own words. “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” (Verse 17). Now, it should not be imagined that the Laodiceans spoke such impertinent words to the Lord audibly, that is, not directly to His face. No, these were the words they spoke in their hearts before His omniscient knowledge. Jesus, who is the Word, is a discerner of not only the thoughts, but the intentions of the heart of men (Heb. 4:12). While men look upon the outward appearance of other people so that they might be fooled, the Lord misses nothing, because He looks at and sees their heart (I Sam. 14:7). Therefore, everything that a man thinks in his heart is open and naked to the One to whom he must give account (Heb. 4:13). What we have here in these words of the Laodiceans, is more than anything an expression of their heart attitude, their good opinion of themselves, and a crass self sufficiency before an all sufficient Savior.
Although we do not know the particular circumstances which led to such a high-minded attitude among the Laodiceans, there is a certain piece of historical information about them that might possibly have contributed to it. Apparently, the Lycus region where Laodicea was located, was subject to frequent earthquakes which destroyed the cities there from time to time. Laodicea was an especially prosperous city however, due to the manufacture and trade of woolen products which they shipped from the Aegean coast to other parts of the empire. It is recorded that the Loadiceans, because of their material prosperity, were able to rebuild their city when this happened at their own expense, rather than relying on empire funds. This may have accounted for the specific nature of Christ’s complaint toward these people. For while money is not evil in and off itself, nevertheless, we are told in Scripture that the love of it is a root of much evil (I Tim. 6:9,10). In fact, Paul taught Timothy that the love of wealth was a fundamental reason why many fall away from the faith.
The love of material things is idolatry too, just as much as the practice of any false religion. Especially noteworthy in this regard is the example given of it by Jesus in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:1ff). Jesus taught in this parable that there is some who receive His word and believe in it, but never bear fruit in their lives commensurate with a profession of faith. Unlike some of the other parables, we have the distinct advantage in this one of Jesus giving an explanation of its meaning to us. God’s word is the good seed sown by the sower in various places. The ground that the seed fell upon however, was of varying quality, hence there were different results from it. In one type of soil we are told that the seed grew among thorns which choked its growth (verse 7). The explanation for this from Jesus is that the thorns represent worldliness and love of riches among those are spiritually unfruitful in their lives (verse 22).
Teaching based on agrarian principles was well known to people in Jesus’ day. Israel was the vineyard of the Lord, the garden of His special planting (Is. 5:1-7). The Lord did everything in a manner of speaking to plant Israel, His garden, so that it would bring forth fruit to His glory. But what do we read from Isaiah? Instead of good spiritual fruit, Israel produced wild earthy fruit due to the “briers and thorns” that grew up in its midst (verse 6). Instead of the fruits of the Spirit, the fruits of the flesh were characteristic of this people (verse 7). Because of this, there was nothing left to do with them but to dig it up.
Confidence in material possessions is antithetical to the Christian faith which is based on those kingdom principles elucidated by our Lord in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12). In summary of this teaching, Jesus said to His disciples that they were to be the salt and light of the earth (Matt. 5:13). Salt is a preservative and light is truth. Where kingdom principles are not found among those who profess faith in Christ, there is nothing left to do with them than to throw them out. Of course, this is not to suggest for a moment that anyone who is Christ’s can lose their salvation. On the contrary, the parable of the sower makes a distinction between those who are His and those who are not. The difference is seen in the fruit. Spiritual fruit is humility, meekness, purity, peacefulness, and the pursuit of righteousness from God, all kingdom principles. The fruit of worldliness and self sufficiency are based on kingdom principles too, unfortunately, these are the principles found in the kingdom of darkness.
The chief offense to God found in idolatry is the denial of His right to be supremely loved by His creature. God is jealous for His glory which He will not share with anyone, and rightfully so. To say that we are rich and wealthy and in need of nothing robs God of His glory to give it to ourselves and our possessions. While this is true of pagans, infidels who have no regard for the Christian faith, what are we to think about the church at Laodicea? Is it possible to be a Christian, and yet, fall guilty of such self adoring, irreverent thought and behavior as this which the Lord uncovered at Laodicea? Perhaps this is best answered by the many warnings given in Scripture to those who profess faith in the Lord. Many times the Lord exhorted His disciples to be watchful of themselves (Matt. 24:42, 26:41; Mark 13:9, 13:33,37; Luke 12:39, 21:36). Paul exhorted the elders of Ephesus to be watchful too, and to take heed to themselves and to their flock (Acts 20:31,28; I Tim. 4:16). Furthermore, Scripture gives this general admonition to all, “Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.” (Prov. 4:23). These, and many others like them, make it clear that we have a duty to be careful in the maintenance of our faith.
The fact that Scripture gives such admonitions as this to people of faith, makes it abundantly clear therefore, that there is a real and present danger of doing otherwise. John, in another letter drew a comparison between those who were true believers and those who were not (I John 5:18-20). But he closed this letter with a warning to the saints to keep themselves from idols (verse 21).
Here, in Laodicea we have an entire congregation of people whose faith was suspect. We have to imagine that it was not always so. We have no such condemnation from the apostle Paul toward them back in his letter to the Colossians. But what we do have in reference to the Laodicean church is a certain warning given to its minister, Archippus, to fulfill his obligation there to the Lord and His people (Col. 4:17). A church changes over time for many reasons. People come and go. Committed Christians eventually go to be with the Lord. Sometimes the children of believers grow up in the church, partaking of its ordinances, but also being far from having any true saving faith of their own. This places a grave burden upon the ministry to be careful in whom they admit into the churches membership and communion. A minister must be careful in the maintenance of his own spiritual life too, so that he does not wander, and allow others thereby to follow his example. Since the character of Gods kingdom and Christ’s church is spiritual, care must be taken by those in authority to be discerning about spiritual matters, as well as outward conformity to religion. Worldliness is an attitude pertaining to unbelief. This is why the apostle says that the natural man does not receive the spiritual things of God, for how can he, they are matters of spiritual discernment (I Cor. 2:14). Whatever the cause or causes were that led to this hapless condition of the people at Laodicea, the outcome of it is obvious and dire.
The sad thing about people who are in sharp, spiritual decline is that they are oblivious to their condition. While these folk in Laodicea said to themselves “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” they were wholly insensible to their real position. The Lord sets them straight in this as He always does, for He states the case as it really is and not how they perceive it to be. The Lord says to the Laodiceans they are deceived, “and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” This is what the deceitfulness of sin from loving riches does to a person over time (Mark 4:19; Heb. 3:13). It leaves men blind to their true spiritual state, insensitive to their true condition and hardened of heart. The deceitfulness of sin when coupled with the love of riches always leads men to suppose that worldly prosperity is a sign of Gods favor upon them, but nothing could be farther from the truth. When men desire material things rather than God, He may give them exactly what they want, but with it they receive from Him spiritual poverty (Ps. 106:13-15). The riches of God are seen in His goodness, forbearance and longsuffering toward sinful creatures which ought instead, to lead them to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Blindness to the presence of sin in ones life is one of the very effects of sin. The Lord sets the Laodiceans straight by telling them this in the most blunt of language possible.
This part of the complaint which Jesus lodged also provides a hint to us concerning the preaching in the Laodicean church. For where there is a lack of sound biblical preaching, the kind which exalts Jesus Christ in all of His offices and work, there is sure to be a false conception of righteousness. Such preaching it is that makes disciples in the first place. When preaching wanes over time however, those who once were sensitive to God and to their own spiritual condition tend to drift away in their thinking. The fact of the matter is that even a born again, redeemed child of God is still no better in themselves than any other depraved sinner when it comes to the issue of righteousness. And one test of true godliness is in maintaining an appreciation for this fact, as Jesus taught His disciples on the mount (Matt. 5:1-4). Poorness of spirit, and mourning over ones sins are not the stuff that modern self esteem philosophy is made of.
Indeed, no one will ever come to Christ in the first place unless they see themselves as “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” This is why the gospel has never been a popular message for general consumption. But the church is to be a place of healing, a spiritual hospital of sorts. Imagine someone layed up in a hospital room wrapped in bandages and hooked to machines saying to themselves, ‘I’m doing fine, I think I’ll go shopping.’ Or, what would anyone think about someone bound to a wheel chair saying, ‘I think I’ll go out jogging.’ Yet, this is the contradiction involved in someone believing their wealth to be a sign of their health, whether it is spiritual or physical. Imagine someone standing in the public square “poor, blind, and naked” declaring to everyone who passes by “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.” Why, anyone would laugh at them to scorn over the ridiculous way they viewed their situation. Yet, this is what is presented to us concerning the church at Laodicea. And so we have the complaint as Jesus saw it.
Verse 18 “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.”
Jesus does not leave the people of Laodicea with the complaint alone, but also with His recommendation for their recovery. The Lord takes His church very seriously, especially considering the price He paid for her. It is not a small matter to Him when the character of a church that has His name upon its lips lapses into spiritual apostasy. And so, a recommendation for recovery is something we would well expect from one whom the prophet calls the “Wonderful Counselor” (Is. 9:6). Jesus says to them “I counsel you.” This is not a gentle suggestion given that might be ignored by those to whom Jesus is addressing. Nor is this some sort of brotherly advice. No, this is a command from one whom Isaiah in the same verse already cited also calls the “Mighty God.” There is absolute authority in this command.that cannot be ignored. And while preaching from men might fail in what it is supposed to accomplish for sundry reasons, when the Lord gives His counsel in whatever form it may come, it will not, it cannot fail to do what it is intended to do (Is. 55:11).
Jesus counsels these folk at Laodicea to examine themselves, to take personal account of their actual condition as He sees it. The words of God when properly spoken have this very effect, even though it may not be received the same way from everyone to whom it is given. When God speaks to His people, it is rightfully referred to in Scripture as His commandments, and His law in which all who hear it are bidden to obey (Deut. 30:10). But the word of God is a command to all men regardless of whether they believe in Him or not. In any church there is a mixture of both types of persons, so we must presume the same to be true here at Laodicea. If that is the case, then there would be some who would receive Jesus’ counsel as the express will of God, and then there would be some who would not. This is something that is extremely important to understand. For Jesus told His disciples “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15). It is clear from these words then that those who do not receive His instruction, also do not love Him either.
There is a pernicious view on salvation that says God’s word is not a matter of law to the believer in Christ who is under grace. While this may be true of justification, it is completely untrue of sanctification. And it is not that sanctification is not a matter of grace either, on the contrary, it most definitely is such. But the word of God never ceases to be law, no matter whom it is addressing. To the lost, God’s law is a terror, but to the saved it is His will. The word of God is a matter of instruction, a standard that directs us in our duty to Him. In other words, to those under grace, the word of God in all of its commandments is positive. And not only is the word of God the only means He uses to save His people, it is also the only means He uses to sanctify them. That is not to say, that such things as ordinances in worship prescribed by the Lord are not means to this end too. No, not at all, but rather, these are useful only to the degree that they are administered in conjunction with His word.
So, the word of God that both saves, and sanctifies, are also the only means of recovery to those who have wandered from the Lord. Jesus commands the people at Laodicea to listen to Him as an assembled group of people meeting in this place and conducting services of worship in His name. It does not matter whether all are saved or not when the Lord speaks, for He speaks as the Lord, regardless of what respect men give Him or not.
Notice here what Jesus tells the Laodiceans to do, “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire.” What an unusual instruction this appears to be! Is this a work Jesus lays down in His directive to the people? If so, we conclude that works do matter in the Christian life. Of course, this fact is established by the apostle Paul too, in many places in his writings (Rom. 1:5, 16:26; Gal. 6:9,10; Eph. 2:10; Phil. 2:12; I Tim. 5:25; Tit. 2:6,7, 3:8).
It is the language of work that Jesus uses here in the passage, not the action of work, per se. We know this by what Jesus instructs the people to do, “buy from Me.” It is impossible to buy anything from the Lord, isn’t it? This is, therefore, metaphorical language He uses, just like that used by Isaiah in his prophecy to Israel, often called the Old Testament gospel (Is. 55:1). What Jesus says to the Laodiceans in the passage before us, is get from Me what you are lacking. In essence, what Jesus is saying is you don’t have what you think you have, in this you are deceived. I counsel you to seek that which sets you right from my infinite resources. Of course, the cost of true discipleship is always our entire life. Not as a sacrifice for sin, obviously, for that is what Jesus has done in His death for sinners. The sacrifice of ones self to the Lord is personal devotion. If people think they are full and belong to themselves, rich according to the worlds standard, then they most certainly are not devoted to the Lord in any true sense of the word.
The whole concept of a substitutionary sacrifice as it appears in Scripture, is exactly what Jesus says when He uses the phrase, “buy from Me.” No man could pay the debt owed to God for his sins, but He has provided it in His Son. Having faith, in essence, is offering to God what he finds acceptable on our behalf, the shed blood of His Son and His righteousness. To buy from the Lord is simply to receive what He gives of Himself by way of grace. Having such faith, one is thoroughly humbled, recognizing the spiritual bankruptcy that sin has left us in. A disciple is one who has died to self as a result of the new birth, just as Paul puts it in Romans 6:1ff.
It is easy to get sidetracked in our devotion to the Lord, however. The remaining effects of sin are always at work trying to negate the work done by the Lord in His people. This is why Paul says in the same passage “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Verse 11). Remember, Paul says, to you who are in Christ, maintain your devotion to Him, in spite of the presence of remaining sin. Fresh deposits of grace in the believers life are what work to maintain devotion in the Christian life.
Fraudulent professors see no value in God’s grace. Religion is external to these sorts of people. They flock to the church to partake of its services, looking to get some selfish benefit from this. Devotion is a life of worship, not an entitlement program. Disciples live to worship and glorify God, while hypocrites want only to take from Him. The benefit a believer gets from God’s grace is eternal life in His presence, not some earthly title or identity to flaunt about. A disciple here and now in this present life is consumed with the Lord in the same way as the proverbial young maiden is to her knight in shining armor. She adores this person and worships the ground he walks on. So does a true disciple of Christ. Eternity will not be long enough to exhaust the riches of His grace nor of the desire of His people to be in His presence. But this is not so with empty professors who look for all their satisfaction in the things of sight and sense. Instead, there is an odor with them; an obnoxious spirit present among them that is characteristic of all they find to be of worth. The Laodiceans as an assembly displayed this kind of air about them. What Jesus recommends to these folk they have no means of their own to buy.
The Lord does use the word “buy” here though, doesn’t He? Is there any sense given in this word that directs the Laodiceans to some sort of action? Surely there is, for the means of grace God gives is “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:21b). These are the gifts as well as the means of grace, they don’t originate from within, but rather, are a result of the work of God upon us. Empty professors know nothing about grace, but the true believer knows exactly what Jesus means by this exhortation.
What does the Lord counsel these people to buy? Jesus says, “buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich.” Whatever is meant in these words, “gold refined in the fire” the Laodiceans don’t have it. First of all, it must be asked, what is gold that it should be used to describe what God values in His people? Obviously, gold is being used metaphorically in this text, for it is not something material that is needed here by the people, nor would Jesus require it of them since He already owns everything. “For every beast of the forest is Mine, And the cattle on a thousand hills.” (Ps. 50:10). And if these people were already full of material goods then this was not something the Lord counsels them to trade for, or, with for that matter.
So what are the properties of gold that the Lord should use it at all in this place? Gold is an amazing metal, an element that cannot be reduced beyond what it already is. Gold is beautiful in its appearance, having a luster unlike anything else. Gold is unique in its properties, being easily malleable, corrosion free, conducive to electricity and extremely rare. This is why men have sought out gold to have as a possession for thousands of years. And if gold as a metaphor does not begin to describe the riches of God, we don’t know what else does. But like all metaphors, the analogy of physical gold as perfect treasure falls far short of what it is used to convey here. God revealed in Scripture what is truly valuable to Him, and likewise, should be of value to His people. That which is of inestimable wealth to God, are not the riches of physical gold but the riches of His mercy and grace in Jesus Christ upon His people (Eph. 2:4-7). God gives a treasure of grace to them in Christ that they might be wholly devoted to Him. You see, the matter here with these people in Laodicea is one that is relational in character. Those who are rich in material goods are independent of others. A rich man answers to no one for the most part, since he is self sufficient. The man with the money is the one calling the shots in this world’s parlance. He is the master of all, and the slave of none. Not so with the man who has nothing, he is a dependant, he is a slave. Whatever this man has in his possession, he owes it to the good favor of another. That which God gives in Jesus Christ, by way of mercy and grace, is a treasure which is far above all others. The object of Gods mercy does not see himself as a lackey either, but rather rich in that which is truly valuable.
So then, is there nothing that is tangible concerning the mercy and grace of God that we can relate to the analogy of gold? Of course there is, Scripture does present a comparison between the two that is tangible. Mercy and grace are principles, but they both flow forth from a specific object, and that object is Jesus Christ Himself. In Christ God became flesh without sin; In time Christ came into the world to save sinners; In Jerusalem Christ died and rose again for redemption; Into heaven Christ ascended in triumph; From heaven Christ mediates His blood and righteousness on behalf of His people. These are all actual things, the object being the person of Christ, that mercy and grace are concerned with. As wonderful an object as Gold is, it pales in comparison to this.
Second of all, Jesus counsels the Laodiceans to get from Him “gold refined in the fire.” After gold is mined, it must be smelted to remove all the impurities that come with it from the ground. When Christ’s people come into the faith, they bring all the baggage of their former life with them. Now, conversion to Christianity, as we have already pointed out involves repentance as well as faith. Through justification by faith a sinner stands before God forgiven, the guilt of their sin payed for by Christ, in His blood. Make no mistake about it, the blood of Jesus Christ is a payment, it is a satisfaction, a propitiation for the debt incurred against God by sin (Acts 20:28; Is. 53:10,11; Rom. 3:24,25). This is what make faith in Christ the substance of things hoped for in salvation (Heb. 11:1). Faith itself is not the substance of the hope. It is only the means to an end. The person of Christ is the substance, or, the object of faith. Repentance is a conscious turning away from a life of sin toward the object of faith, which is Christ.
While repentance and faith are present at conversion, this does not end nor solve the problem of remaining sin. And just as gold as an element must be refined to a pure state to be of ultimate value in its use, so does the spiritual life of a Christian require this too. The fire to which Jesus refers here in Revelation is nothing less than the normal Christian experience of spiritual refinement known as sanctification. Spiritual growth in a Christian does not occur by itself without means any more than fire occurs without a certain process being involved first. And the fruit of fire produces change too, what remains after it is extinguished, is a final product which reflects that change. So it is with the spiritual life of a true believer when they have endured refinement in fire. The fire that produces purity in the Christian life is trial and tribulation. Sickness and poverty, persecution and rejection from the world are the normal experience of the Christian life, lived in devotion to Christ. These are the things that drive a Christian to Christ and the cross, over and over again seeking new and fresh supplies of grace to help in time of need. Jesus, as the great High Priest of His people is able to provide this help, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:15,16).
If a true believer fails to see and understand this, sin runs rampant in their life, bringing guilt and discouragement as the result. Also, when spiritual growth in a Christian is stunted, a failure to effectively be a witness to their faith occurs too. Here is something that is vital to understand concerning this truth, everyone, whether a believer or not will endure trouble in this life. The presence of sin in the world guarantees this. How someone reacts to these things is the dividing line between the two. The worldling says ‘woe is me, life is unfair.’ The believer says ‘this is from God who has my best interest in mind.’ The worldling turns away from God, the believer turns to God, this is how faith is refined in them. The worldling trusts in his own resources such as personal standing in the community, personal attainments of talent and education, and most of all, his personal wealth. To see an assembly of professing believers say ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ speaks volumes about where they stand in their profession of faith. Jesus counsels these Laodiceans to get in modern day expression, a life, meaning a life of Christian experience born of spiritual refinement through the sanctifying process of grace.
There is something else in this exhortation too, which is hinted at here as well as in the other letters to the seven churches. First, it is clear that the present state of personal, as well as corporate testimony is the fruit of prior refinement, or, the lack thereof. The church at Ephesus had persevered with patience, which is why they were successful against heresy (Rev. 2:2,3). The church at Smyrna had undergone tribulation and poverty, which is why they were faithful to Christ and under no rebuke from Him (Rev. 2:8). The church at Pergamos held fast to the name of Christ in the face of occult activity, and because of this, did not deny Him (Rev. 2:13). The church at Thyatira had been so zealous in the discipline of their love, service, faith, and patience, they were able to multiply the number of these works over time (Rev. 2:19). Even though the church at Sardis was lacking spiritual life among its members, there were those who had formerly heard and received the word of God, so that they had not defiled their testimony (Rev. 3:1,4). The church at Philadelphia had kept the word of Christ, which gave them the strength not to deny Him (Rev. 3:8). But when we come to the church at Laodicea, there does not appear to be even a hint of spiritual capital to be found in operation among them.
Second, it is also true that a present state of spiritual refinement is necessary for the believer if he, or, she is to continue in the faith in the face of future trial. This too, is evident in what Christ says to His church in these letters, for He speaks of their need to “overcome” future trouble that awaits them (Rev. 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12). The Laodicean church was no different either, for it too, would face the same obstacles, the same oppositions, the same trials as all the rest would eventually be required to do (Rev. 3:21). And their need to overcome would not be in the far distant future, for the date that this letter was written (95-97 AD), indicates that they were about to encounter the worst persecution the church had been forced to face, up to that date. While Nero’s persecution against Christians was primarily contained to Rome proper, Domitian, the emperor at the time of this letter being written, would institute the first empire wide persecution upon the church. All seven of the churches in Asia were about to find themselves involved in this trial. Only those who were true Christians would be able to overcome in this trial, all others would succumb to it, and deny their faith in Christ, confessing Domitian as Lord. Until Constantine became emperor in 325 AD, and professed faith in Christ himself, the church underwent repeated periods of severe persecution throughout the empire at the hands of the emperors.
The Laodiceans apparently, had not undergone any of the spiritual growth or refinement necessary to prepare them for those “things which must shortly take place,” that Jesus opened His revelation to John about in reference to the future (Rev. 1:1). Many things would befall the Christian church, this is evident of the book in which this letter resides. But the very first thing to come, no matter what else Revelation teaches, would be this extended period of trial for the early church following the end of the apostolic era. This is why He said, “buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich.” The richness these folk were lacking in their profession of the Christian faith, were the riches of God’s grace necessary to persevere in holiness unto the end of their journey here on earth.
This is a shot across the bow of easy believism, which says that a single act of faith, so justifies a person that if they should not make an ounce of progress in the faith, they are in no danger of future judgement. While eternal security is a blessed component of salvation doctrine, denying the need to be sanctified in the faith is not. The apostle Paul makes this point clear to his understudy in the ministry, Titus. “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” (Tit. 2:11,12). That being the case, this is also a shot across the bow of worldliness in the Christian church too, for worldliness is the fuel that feeds the fires of lust and ungodliness.
That this is what Jesus is talking about here can be ascertained in the second part of the counsel which Jesus gives not only to “buy from Me gold refined in the fire,” but also, “and white garments, that you may be clothed.” There cannot possibly be a more graphic example of the concept of practical holiness in Scripture than that made here of wearing “white garments.” The marriage dress of a bride is white in order to convey to the world that she has remained pure in anticipation of this event. The picture the color “white” paints signifies to us the concept of moral purity. This graphic example is found everywhere in the book of Revelation, the number of times it appears is fifteen. But the example of white in reference to clothing is especially illustrative of the point Jesus is making here, especially since it is found in nine out of the fifteen verses that use the color white (Rev. 3:4,5,18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9,13,14; 19:14).
Jesus recommends these “white garments” to the Laodiceans in order that “that you may be clothed.” That Jesus is talking about practical holiness here, is evident from the illustration itself, being that of the clothing. Being clothed is something that involves the exercise of putting it on. Now, it is at this point that diverse opinions have arisen as to the state of those people in Laodicea that Jesus is talking too. Some say they were unbelievers needing salvation, in which case the illustration given of “white garments” would signify the imputed righteousness of Christ that God gives in justification. This is a fair assessment as far as it goes. But there are others who would say, Jesus is talking here to believers that have backslided in their faith being overcome by worldly thinking and behavior. After all, sin does remain in the believer, and Christian experience is far from static. A true believer may act differently at any given time in the course of their Christian life depending on the level of sanctification they enjoy at any given moment of temptation. That too, is also a fair assessment as well, as far as it goes.
In fact, the New Testament actually gives us two different examples of the concept of putting on to ponder. The first one is indeed that which God imputes to a believer at their conversion to Christ. When we say conversion, what we mean by that are the various individual aspects of it that occur at the time of conversion. Without listing everything involved at conversion, we refer mainly to regeneration first, then second, the exercise of faith, resulting in third, justification from God. The apostle Paul puts it like this, “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” (Col. 2:12,13). The circumcision made without hands is regeneration, which God sovereignly imparts to His elect, and also precedes any response from them by way of their conversion. The baptism spoken of here is also regeneration rather than the outward ordinance of the same name. The proof of this is in Paul’s statement that the “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh” is done “by the circumcision of Christ.” This is not, therefore, something which mankind does to save himself, but the work of God in salvation apart from works.
Elsewhere, Paul uses the same expression to put on, put off in a different way. Paul says to believers “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth,” and, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Col. 3:8,9; Rom. 13:14). Clearly, Paul shows there are works of putting on and putting off that every believer is called to do that has everything to do with the issue of practical holiness.
As we have already said, no distinction is made by Christ concerning any particular person at Laodicea, for He is addressing the church as a whole. Presumably, there would be a mixed group in that place, for even the church Christ calls dead (Sardis) has someone there living (Rev. 3:4). Those who are dead in their sins can in no way manifest practical holiness of any sort. These are hypocrites who wear Christianity as a symbol of pride for the world to see. Hypocrites often display the counterfeits of true grace outwardly, but ultimately they do not fool the Lord. Regardless of whom Jesus is talking too in this collective church setting, the same truth applies to all. Unless a Christian profession is adorned with the accouterments of practical holiness, it is empty and worthless. Believers may act as hypocrites do at times too, because of remaining sin. It is, therefore, difficult, even impossible at times, to tell the difference between the two.
This is the reason why Christ tells us what He does in the parable of the wheat and tares (Matt. 13:24-30). In this parable, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven on earth, which is the church, is a field comprising both wheat and tares. The wheat represents believers and the tares, those who are hypocrites. Jesus came first to inaugurate the kingdom of heaven here on earth in the church, where righteousness reigns in the hearts of believers (Luke 17:21). When He comes again the second time, it will be to consummate the kingdom of heaven in the new creation in which righteousness reigns supreme everywhere (II Pet. 3:13). We know this to be the case because heaven itself is inhabited by the redeemed only. Because tares grew up in the field, the sower is asked by his servants if they should uproot them (verse 28). His response is no, in case one of wheat is mistaken for a tare (verse 29). This parable is illustrative of the problem the Christian church has always faced. For this reason, preaching should always cover every possible hearer in a church audience. Christ does no less in His counsel to the Laodicean church.
Perhaps this is why Jesus tells them to obtain “white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed.” Lest any hypocrite supposes he has fooled the Lord like he has others, for hypocrites are completely naked when it comes to righteousness. How many times has a person grown up in a Christian home attending church all their life, and yet, they remain unregenerate? Jesus gives His disciples another parable in which this very thing is illustrated, the parable of the wedding feast (Matt. 22:1-10). Among the guests who were gathered in that hall there was one without proper attire (verse 11). The king who called the feast came in and immediately picked out this improperly dressed person who was completely embarrassed at the revelation (verse 12). Jesus spoke to all who were present in Laodicea as though they were like this man, lest any of them end up exposed as he was.
Imagine someone attending a banquet without clothes on. The thought of it is ridiculous. But nevertheless, this is exactly what hypocrites propose to do on the day they come before the king for judgement. How is it, they are unable to see their condition? It is because of the spiritual blindness that sin causes. People do not come to Christ outside the church because they do not see the true condition they are in. There are many in the world that are good people by it’s standard. But because of a deceived heart, they fail to see themselves as they ought (Jer. 17:9). But those within the visible church that appear to be good according to its standards, and remain unconverted are in the worst condition of all. The degree of goodness that a hypocrite has is only superficial, and only pertains to outward appearance. This is why Jesus adds this to His counsel, “and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” He means to say, please take to heart what you are being told! “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you are disqualified.” (II Cor. 13:5). This is what Paul told the Corinthians to do.
Certainly, at a time in which the sacraments are administered in the church, this sort of duty is incumbent upon all those present. “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (I Cor. 11:28). Believers who are sinning unrepentantly and yet, partake of the Lord’s supper bring providential judgement upon themselves (verse 29). This is why so many churches that are careless about their membership and church discipline has no spiritual growth and are impotent in their witness. The unbelieving hypocrite derives no benefit at all from the Lord’s supper, he receives only a small meal in it. Those who are Christ’s are to be judged here now by Him. If self examination by the hypocrite were possible, perhaps there would be no hypocrites in the church. The truth is that blindness attends those who are religious, yet, spiritually dead, so that they are unable to see.
The “eye salve” Christ speaks of here is the word of God. There is only one example of a saint in Scripture ever being born regenerate, which is John the Baptist (Luke 1:15). We do not deny that it could, or, that it has not happened again if God so chooses. But the normal means God uses in bringing His people to faith are in the reading and hearing of Scripture, for in it He reveals Himself in His Son who is called “the Word” (John 1:1). And true, saving faith must be informed if it is to lay hold of Christ as the only Savior. This is why there is such a danger to those who hold to infant baptism believing their baptized children are necessarily saved. It is a grievous sin to ever make children believe they are Christians simply because they were baptized as infants. Jesus talks to this church full of people as though they were not! Whether or not the Laodiceans practiced infant or believer’s baptism is irrelevant to what Jesus said to them. What was relevant, is whether they had Scriptural faith or not.
On the other hand, hypocrites have little interest in the Bible, except in the performance of their duty once a week in church. Regular reading of the Bible is the means of God He uses to sanctify the true saint. Conversely, if a true believer has failed to grow as they ought, or has backslided, even for a long time, the word of God is the very means God uses to recover them and cause them to grow. The word of God is like eysalve that cures someone from their ignorance of the things of God, and blindness to sin. Through the word of God the issues of life are seen in a right light. The sufficiency of Christ is only known to us because of the sufficiency of Scripture to inform our minds of it (Col. 2:9,10; II Tim. 3:16).
Verse 19 “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.”
The Lord showed that it is was not enough for Him to state His will to the people at Laodicea, but He gave them the reason for it too. In doing so, the particularity of Christ’s redemption is revealed when He says, “As many as I love.” Some people fancy that God loves everyone equally, they assume therefore, that this address was made to all who were at Laodicea without distinction, but that was not the case. In fact, a careful study of Scripture should disabuse them of such a notion as this for God has said in His word, “As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” (Rom. 9:13). And while it is true that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” it is also true “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). God shows in the entire verse that “the world” does not mean every person in the world, but those who believe in Him.
That being said, we know that Jesus was addressing those who believe at Laodicea, or, those who might believe following His exhortations to them. There is at once something apparent to us in this phrase, “As many as I love.” There must have been some at the Laodicean church who were indeed Christ’s people. Otherwise, He would not have said this to the church in general. We know that it is for His own that Jesus is concerned here, for we are told this in Scripture.
First of all, Jesus died for His covenant people (Matt. 26:28). Second, Jesus intercedes on behalf of His people He came to die for (John 17:20). And third, those who are His hear and follow Jesus (John 10:14,27). Knowing this, we conclude that there were some unknown number of true believers in this church who would be positively affected by the message Jesus sent. Conversely, we also conclude that those who were unaffected by the things Jesus revealed here in this letter, were none of His in a true saving way.
How is it then that Jesus shows His love to the people He died for? Jesus answers this question saying “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” Rebuke is a strong word to use toward someone who is an object of love, yet, Jesus uses it here to get the attention of those who are of His concern. To understand the nature of the situation, we need only to consider the nature of who is speaking. No one was ever more meek, more humble, and more gentle than Jesus. For Jesus to rebuke His people in a church is serious business indeed! Yet, we know this about Jesus from Scripture for He says, “The Lord GOD has given Me The tongue of the learned, That I should know how to speak A word in season to him who is weary.” (Is. 50:4a).
Jesus spoke to the Laodicean believers exactly in the manner they needed, there was nothing more, nor nothing less in it than what was absolutely called for by the circumstances. The serious nature of worldliness and crass materialism in this church, coupled with the lack of spiritual growth, presented a clear and present danger of apostasy from the faith among these people. This necessitated strong, authoritative language from our loving Lord. What kind of family member would stand by and watch a loved one step in front of a speeding train? Certainly not one who had real love and concern for that supposed loved one. Neither would Jesus, stand idly by and watch those whom He gave His life blood for backslide into the abyss of utter ruin.
Jesus said “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” This rebuke from Jesus was indeed a verbal rod of chastening, and no chastening is pleasant at the moment it is administered as the writer of Hebrews tells us (Heb. 12:11a). But notice what the second part of this verse says too, “nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Verse 11b). Now, a verbal rebuke is hardly a harsh form of chastening considering what was about to confront the Christian church not long after this. New recruits in military training find little joy at a drill sergeant shouting in their face, barking instructions and rebuke. But when these trained soldiers enter a war zone with bullets flying past them, that drill sergeant turns out to be the best friend they ever had.
The Lord brings chastening to His people for multiple reasons that all spring from this one purpose that they might be trained by the word of God and His righteousness. Chastening may come from the Lord for a failure to manifest the signs of spiritual growth. Chastening may come from the Lord where there are specific instances of sin that requires repentance. Chastening from the Lord also becomes necessary where there is a failure to heed the warnings He gives from His word to repent. Chastening may also occur, as in the case of Job, where the Lord is causing further spiritual growth where it already exists in good measure. That was certainly not the case at Laodicea. And chastening may take many forms as well, ranging from verbal rebukes from the Lord in preaching, to severe providential trials of persecution, poverty and sickness.
Any preaching that is worth anything will be accompanied by applications specific to a congregation. The Lords’ message to the Laodiceans gives us the perfect example of what biblical preaching should consist of. An exposition on a theme or a text from the Bible, followed by exhortations to respond to the obvious applications contained within, is what certifies any preaching as coming from the Lord. This is why Jesus says to them, “Therefore be zealous and repent.” Repentance from sin with new grace from God is what spiritual training in the Lord’s army entails.
Notice how Jesus qualifies the repentance He is referring too, “Therefore be zealous.” He says be fanatical about it! This quality of zeal is what true biblical repentance must possess if it to be called real repentance. Like everything else in Scripture repentance is defined, not left to our imagination as to what, it is. Repentance is a change of mind concerning a course of action being pursued. In regard to God, repentance is a turning away from sin against Him toward obedience instead. In the case of those who are supposed to be the Lords people already, repentance is a return to the Lord. God exhorted sinning Israel through the prophet Hosea, “O Israel, return to the LORD your God, For you have stumbled because of your iniquity; Take words with you, And return to the LORD. Say to Him, ” Take away all iniquity; Receive us graciously, For we will offer the sacrifices of our lips.” (Hos. 14:1,2). Repentance usually involves prayer as well as other specific actions, away from sin toward obedience to God.
Perhaps there is no better place in Scripture to consider the nature of repentance than to do so by Pauls words to the Corinthians on this very matter. In his first letter Paul sharply rebuked the Corinthian church for allowing a scandalous man to dwell among them without church discipline (I Cor. 5:1ff). Apparently, the church repented of this neglect and did so by carrying through with Paul’s recommendation to remove this man (I Cor. 5:5,13). The man himself repented too, and consequently, in Paul’s second letter he exhorted the church to restore this man to fellowship, accepting his sincere repentance as evidence of Gods work of grace in his heart (II Cor. 7:8-12). In these verses’ Paul says, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” (Verses 10,11).
Repentance, according to Paul is not simply being sorry about something, it is much more. Paul makes a distinction in the text between godly and worldly sorrow. The latter are self interested while the former is God interested. And while the world views sorrow as a regret for what one has done, because of its personal consequence, the godly sorrow out of regret toward God. God is the aggrieved party in true repentance, not the one doing the repenting. Notice what true repentance produces in the godly: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” Repentance is a zealous clearing of the matter with God, a personal indignation before Him over it.
It is necessary to be clear about two things Paul says however, that is often confused about repentance. First, when Paul says in the Corinthian passage “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation,” he does not say that anyone is saved by their repentance. We have previously addressed the matter, concluding that repentance and faith are the result of a prior work of grace, not what produces the grace in a person. These two things, faith and repentance, are the fruits of God’s grace. Also, Paul is talking here to confessing believers, even to the man who was disciplined for his scandalous behavior. Second, Paul does not mean to imply that repentance is a feeling when he says “godly sorrow,” so that one sort of feeling must be judged against another to determine whether one has true repentance or not. Sorrow, as it is defined in this context is an emotion, not a feeling, there is a vast difference between the two. Emotion is spiritual, a faculty of ones being, whilst feelings are entirely physical in nature. The term feeling is often used in various ways to convey a whole range of things pertaining to the human condition. In reality, the two terms, emotion and feeling are not the same. We feel hunger, pain, cold and hot. Emotion produces sensations which are felt such as joy or sorrow, even though they (emotions), are not physical, because of our humanity. The point Paul made to the Corinthian church, concerned their determination in the matter before God.
Special emphasis needs to be put upon these words from the Lord, “be zealous” due to the fact that they define the sort of repentance He calls for from the Laodiceans. Zeal in religion is detested by the world. A little religion added to ones life experience is usually considered by the world to be enriching. But zeal in religion on the other hand, is equated by the world with a fanaticism associated with Islamic Jihadism, irrational and violent at times. Of course, that is not what Jesus is saying here at all in this text. Zeal is fanaticism, but it is devotion toward God, not some sort of action against people. The world actually loves fanaticism when it is directed toward the objects of their love other than God. Sports fans are fanatics about their interests, as are other fans of theirs, oftentimes, even to the point of violence. The zeal spoken of here by the Lord is not that all, but rather undying devotion to God in all matters of faith and practice. In fact, zeal in religion is exactly the opposite of lukewarmness! Jesus is telling the Laodiceans to repent of their lukewarmness just as much as their worldliness.
Lack of zeal in religious devotion is the first sign of backsliding in a believer’s life. And although a hypocrite may be zealous about outward duties, a lack of zeal in their religious devotion is also one sign of them being a hypocrite. As we have previously pointed out, the guilt of hypocrisy may be true of both a true and a false Christian. The difference in it however, is in whether one is simply a backslider, as opposed to being altogether unregenerate.
The backsliding condition leaves a Christian in a very precarious position, susceptible to the vicious attacks of Satan. Jesus exhorts those He loves in the church to “be zealous and repent,” that they do not become froward in the faith, ready to lie down at the first sign of trouble that overtakes them. But thanks be to God that we who believe are not left to ourselves in the matter. Even though it is the believer whom Jesus appeals to in His message, it is also true that nothing overtakes them except what is commonly experienced by all (I Cor. 10:13). Many interpret this passage to mean God promises to deliver a believer from every temptation they encounter, no matter what it is. But that is not the context in which the verse appears. It is temptation which leads to eventual, utter apostasy from the faith that is here in view. In this promise of God written by Paul we see provision made against overwhelming temptation.
It is also true that Satan cannot touch a single hair on the head of a believer without permission. The provision of God in the promise of deliverance, is in Christ, His word, His blood, His righteousness, and last but not least, His intercession of them all. The inevitability of backsliding on our part as sinners does not hinder Christ’s preservation of His people in the least. We have an amazing testimony to this truth in the gospels. “And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:31,32).
The Lord’s intercessions, which are hidden from view, do not come without His exhortations to repent which we both see in His word and hear in the preaching of it!
And though the Lord has the immediate future of the Laodicean church in view here concerning this exhortation to “be zealous and repent,” trouble for the Christian church does not always come from without. The tare’s Jesus spoke of in His parable (Matt. 13) is the devil’s plant in the field. When any trouble arises in the church, the inspiration for it is certainly not the Holy Spirit. Believers who lack discernment from spiritual growth in grace are easily drawn into schisms as well as scandals started by hypocrites among them. If another professing believer in the church does not act like a Christian ought, we should not think for a minute they are, unless they come to their senses and repent (II Tim. 2:26). Otherwise, we accuse Christ of being the promoter of their cause. Now, some causes that bring division in the church may be completely justified. But the manner in which they are handled by those engaged in them, show what manner of men is behind them. This is why Paul exhorts Christian people to not have their good be spoken of as evil (Rom. 14:16).
Verses 20-22 “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.”
Finally, Jesus gives an encouragement to the Laodiceans to heed the recommendation given with a promise, or should we say, a host of promises. For there is nothing in true religion of value which comes from self-motivated craven fear, only that which is born of love and devotion based on the promise of God. First of all, faith itself is based on a reception of Gods promise in Christ. Faith lays hold of the future reward which is presented in the promise. And make no mistake about it, salvation is a reward received, which does not come from any work we do, but is ours in the finished work of Christ from God. As children adopted into the family of God, eternal life is an inheritance which Paul calls a “reward” (Col. 3:24). Second, God gives His promises as an encouragement to faith. Any parent knows that children always respond to encouragement better than they do fear, and so it is with God our heavenly Father. Fear of consequences is an important part of instruction too, in this we make no remonstrance. But the devotion which has only fear as its primary motivation will always be lacking as a principle in the person who has it.
Paul makes this very point in his letter to the Roman church. In it he says, “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors — not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” (Rom. 8:12-17). This lengthy quotation from Paul points out several things which all relate to this principle. First, Christians are debtors to God, but in what way? We certainly ought not to live according to the flesh (verse 12). How is this done? It is done by living a life which is led according to the Spirit of God. A person who puts the deeds of their body to death out of true gratitude to God is one who is already saved. There is no formula presented here in this text of work righteousness.
Second, a Christian then is a debtor to grace. Notice how Paul puts a contrast between those who are led by the Spirit and those who are not. Paul says those who live according to the flesh live in bondage to fear, unlike those who have received the Spirit of adoption into the family of God. It is clear then that those whose religion lacks the presence, power, and motivation of God’s Spirit do all things out of craven fear. They live according to the flesh. But those who are Christ’s, enjoy His Spirit and presence in their life. The result of this is a life lived before God as His child, even though adopted into the family. As an adopted child, every believer is an heir to His eternal riches such as life, holiness and happiness. It is out of a debt of gratitude to God that believers receive the Spirit’s witness in the admonitions of the preached word. But it is also because of this gratitude that motivation appears as the only reasonable response to its exhortations (Rom. 12:1,2).
All of this is presented as the backdrop for the words of our text, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” This verse is often used as a gospel message from Christ to all people indiscriminately. In doing it this way however, they use it out of context. Christ does not in any sense stand outside the door as a salesman might, hoping someone will open the door to Him. Nor does Christ stand outside the door of His church and knock, hoping someone might open the door to Him. The gospel message is a declarative statement of Jesus Christ as the Son of God who came in the flesh with power, according to the Spirit of Holiness (Rom. 1:3,4). This is followed by an imperative statement, or, a command if you will from God to repent and believe (Acts 2:36-38). Special notice must be given to the following verse (39) which tells us that the promise of salvation from God is to “as many as the Lord our God will call.” In other words, salvation in Christ is according to the effectual call of God to it. There is no sense in which the Lord goes about pleading for people to respond to Him, other than that response which is affected by God in His covenant people.
The Laodicean church was a Christian church, not a pagan gathering, although sometimes it is hard to distinguish the difference between them both in some religious places that go by that name. And of course, those who are reprobates, hypocrites who have no true spiritual motivation in the things of God, will never have concern for the promises of God that come with both threats and encouragements from Him. Jesus Christ stands at the door of His people and knocks, in order to get their attention. Oftentimes, Christians tend to become hard of hearing through personal neglect of their salvation. Many make little progress in the faith because of this, being enamored with the world too much, and not enough with the Lord who bought them. The writer of Hebrews is exasperated over this fact in his attempt to explain the deeper things of God to them about the nature of His covenant (Heb. 5:12-14). Those who lightly use the means of grace found in Gods word, and in prayer dwell in perpetual infancy in their faith, being unable to go any further than the most elementary aspects of it. Because of this, oftentimes the Lord knocks on their door in much stronger ways than just words. Sometimes the severest of trials are the only sufficient means to get their attention. Only then, will they pay heed to His word. But it should not be so in a perfect Christian environment where all the means are at the disposal of His people.
Therefore, it is the door of the heart that is here in view. Christ knocks at the door of His own within this church that they might be recovered from their errors of neglect which has led to worldliness. And it is not as if Christ does not know who are His and those who are not. Those of us in the church are the ones in this precarious position. Christ says, “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door” not for His own benefit, but for the benefit those who are His among the Laodiceans, that teeter on the brink of their own ruin. The Lord often tests His people to this end that they might know what is in their hearts (Deut. 8:2). We see in Scripture that those within the religious community that will not respond, to the Lords voice, do not because they cannot (Is. 6:9,10). Failure to hear and see and perceive the Lords voice may be a preparation for eventual destruction.
Since it is not in the power of man to “hear” it is also not in the power of man to “open.” Indeed, Christ will enable His own to hear and respond to His gracious appeals for He is the Shepard of His sheep, and the doorkeeper of the sheepfold (John 10:3).
Jesus says to His sheep, “I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” It is they and they alone that Christ communes within His kingdom. This is why He appointed the memorial supper for His people until He comes again. It is a perpetual reminder that this is why they have been saved, that they have fellowship with Him and with each other as His collective body. Where worldliness prevails in a true church, communion with Christ is all but broken. For where material objects are held in high esteem, little concern for that which is truly spiritual can be maintained. And those who are truly saved know in their breast when they walk out of step with their Lord. Happiness and peace are not present where His Spirit is grieved. Certainly, where sin is allowed a full reign, or, where fighting and strife prevails among God’s people, there is little fellowship of the Spirit found. Therefore, this encouragement is given to provoke the heart of His people to face their faults. No relationship can be properly maintained where indifference toward the interest of the other is practiced. This is why Paul gives that exhortation in his epistle to Ephesians, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Eph. 4:30). The day of redemption is what the Christian should look for, a day in which eternal fellowship with God in Christ will be fully realized. It is this communion that is here in view from Christ’s appeal to the Laodicean Christians.
Another promise is presented by way of further encouragement to the Laodicean Christians by Jesus saying, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne.” The meaning of this hearkens back to the beginning of this revelation given to John concerning the kingship of Jesus and our relationship to Him in His kingdom (Rev. 1:4-7). In preparation for the next two hundred years of persecution, Christ reveals the outcome of it beforehand to His church. Jesus is the Ruler who prevails over the kingdoms of the world, consequently, His people will prevail with Him. Christ has made us prophets, priests and kings with Him. That is our communion! We share the blessings of those offices which He holds in the eternal kingdom by virtue of His shed blood on our behalf! There is no possibility therefore, that those for whom He died will not overcome, just as He did. And there is no possibility that those who overcome will not reign with Him in glory some day. It is here we ask, how will His people sit on Christ’s throne, after all, isn’t He sitting there? The answer should be obvious, for a child beholding his father sitting down, desires to sit in his lap. And just as Christ is so close to the Father He dwells in His bosom (John 1:18), so do we as we sit upon His lap, while He sits upon His throne in the kingdom saying, “as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”
Jesus closes His exhortations of encouragement and blessing with this caveat, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Although salvation is a personal thing between God and a person made in His image, it is also true that salvation is communal. As such, the salvation of individuals means everything to the church. Contrary to popular thought today, salvation is not simply or solely a relationship between God and His people as mere individuals. The church is the body of Christ, of which He is the Head (Eph. 1:22,23). There is no such thing as a body that is living which does not have vital communication occurring between its members. This is why Christ speaks to a specific group of churches in the book of Revelation. This is why the New Testament letters were addressed to specific churches throughout the Roman empire.
True Christian’s are concerned with the church, not just with them and their relationship with the Lord, as importantly as that might be. If the sin of worldliness became the dominant characteristic of the entire Laodicean church, then it is obvious what sort of dynamic takes place when individuals come together in a group. The Lord scatters His congregations throughout the earth as a present witness to the world. The sin of individuals within a congregation will, if not dealt with, become the sins of all. Paul said to that church which tolerated sin among its members, “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (I Cor. 5:6). And so it is to the church as a congregation that Christ directs His final words. Every member of a church is responsible to the Lord, in whatever capacity they are by Him assigned to it. Whether it is an elder, a deacon or an individual congregant, each one make up the local church where Christ has promised His special presence (Matt. 18:20). The failure of each church member to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” will ultimately lead to the withdrawal of His Spirit from that place.
Today, there is no Christian church located in Laodicea, nor in any of the other places listed in Revelation. This area is now present day Turkey, a Moslem nation which does not tolerate the propagation of Christian teaching anywhere within its borders. This does not imply in any way that the future of the church depends upon men to keep it, only that Christ’s church is a spiritual organization, built on spiritual principles which He has instituted for its propagation and preservation. Therefore, we do well no matter where we dwell in the world as Christians to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Amen.