In theological circles, there is much discussion about the inspiration of the text of the Bible. One area of the Bible that undeniably claims to be inspired are the seven letters that were delivered verbatim to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. Jesus personally dictated these letters to the apostle John. Although each of these letters have an application to every church, some would (correctly) argue that they lay a prophetic picture of church history from the period of the birth of the church until the Lord’s return. On this basis and with all the signs of Jesus’ second coming escalating around us, the letter to Laodicea is particularly relevant and we have to ask how is applies to Christendom in the world today. When was the last time you heard a sermon on this letter in your church? This is the only place in the Bible where Jesus personally addresses the church and yet these letters are often completely ignored because of the hard message – it is vital we hear what it has to say to us as it is very timely.
The name of each of the seven churches reveals something of the nature and character of the church concerned. The word Laodicea literally mean ‘opinions of the people’, ‘the people decide’ or ‘judgments of the people’. This is very relevant to us living in the democratic UK and particularly in the current social climate where we really can decide to do whatever we like and this is packaged as our ‘rights’ and ‘entitlements’. We live at a time where political correctness and tolerance obsessively override the need to be respectfully critical or point out error. We really do live at a time when society is Laodicean and there is no question that these attitudes have infiltrated the church:
And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 3:14-22)
We will break this letter down into sections and see how it applies to us today:
And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; (Revelation 3:14)
As mentioned above, the term ‘Laodicea’ very accurately describes society in the UK and the West generally. The church landscape is very fragmented because churches or denominations have broken off in one direction or another which is perfectly indicative of a Laodicean nature where the ‘people decide’ for themselves what church should be, as opposed to following Scriptural instruction.
We are reminded that when God speaks, His words are ‘faithful’ and ‘true’. In our post-modern society, it is unfashionable to claim anything is an objective or universal truth – we can all decide what it ‘true’ for us. Jesus claims His words are faithful and true and this is the case whether we believe it or not – we should therefore take His words at face-value. What follows in the body of the letter is very important for the church concerned and very important for us:
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth (Revelation 3:15-16)
It is often the case that when the original Greek/Hebrew is translated to English in our modern translations, the language used softens the original meaning and the this is true here. Some modern translations use the word ‘spit’ instead of ‘spue’. In the Greek, the word simply means to ‘vomit’ – in other words, from Jesus’ perspective, this church is unpalatable or unfit for consumption and makes Jesus sick – this is very strong language indeed.
Also note the word ‘will’ in this sentence. Jesus WILL (not might) vomit this church – this is a very stern warning and one that every church should take seriously. Jesus implies that He cannot abide believers who are ‘lukewarm’. We suggest that mainstream Christianity in the Western world perfectly fits this description in many ways. Are we at churches that are lukewarm in their faith or service for God? Is your church comfortable, content and simply going through the motions? Are we at churches that are more concerned with internal issues and politics that distract or prevent them from being a light to the nations.
It is often said that there is some good in every church or that the church leader is right on some areas of doctrine so we should simply focus on the good and ignore the bad. This does not appear to be how God sees it – good and bad are not homogeneous, If you put some milk in a cup of tea it mixes in a way that makes it impossible to then separate. This same is true with the gospel message – it is either true or false…all forms of mixture make it false and worse still, the ‘good’ bits often deceive people into believing the whole message is OK and this makes it more harmful and dangerous. God does not like a mixture:
Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: (1 Corinthians 5:6-7)
Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. (Galatians 5:7-9)
Any redefined gospel is a false gospel and cannot save – if a church is promoting a message of salvation through ‘good works’, ‘experience’, ‘signs and wonders’, ‘legalism’ or ‘rituals and traditions’ it has probably strayed from Jesus’ gospel of repentance and grace.
We have heard it said that in almost every church, the vast majority of work is done by a very small amount of people. This has nothing to do with whether someone is ‘paid’ to do this work – if financial payment is received by a professional member of staff at a church, the reward is also already received by that person. This has to do with the servant heart of believers in the church who will each be accountable for their service of being either cold, hot or lukewarm in their faith. We are called to be led by the Spirit to sacrificially invest time, energy and resources to further the gospel of Jesus Christ and make disciples of new believers.
Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: (Revelation 3:17)
The biggest shock with these seven letters and particularly with this part is that it is easy to forget this is actually written to the church! This phrase in particular does not sound like it is directed to a group of people who are saved? We should come to Jesus on our knees with repentant and thankful hearts, in humble reverence of Him. We can be confident in our salvation if we are saved, however, we are still reminded many times in NT that our we are to live with an attitude of complete submission to God by surrendering our own lives as we walk with Christ.
We question whether this attitude is evident in many contemporary churches. We are often bewildered at the over-emphasis in OUR needs and wants and many flock church to ‘experience’ God and be entertained by the music and the preacher. Oftentimes, our prayers are really a wish list that is usually geared towards protecting our own comfortable western lifestyles. It goes without saying that any form of prosperity teaching goes completely against the teachings of Jesus and should be completely absent from the pulpits of our churches – life for the true Christian will be hard and challenging, with the prospect of being richly rewarded in heaven.
Many churches in the UK use secular marketing, financial and business models to guide interaction with society which often results in a reliance, agreement or debt to worldly financial or political institutions. Consequently these churches feel they are secure, wise and prudent when in reality they are at the mercy of the ever-changing policy of the secular environment they are located in. No wonder there is such compromise on display within the church with society around as increasing pressure will be put onto churches to abandon the unattractive and offensive parts of the gospel.
I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. (Revelation 3:18)
The gold mentioned here is most likely to be a link to the following passage in Corinthians:
Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)
This passage has nothing to do with salvation but instead demonstrates that those who are saved will be apportioned rewards depending on their work for the kingdom during their lifetimes. This work is a result of our salvation and not a means of our salvation. This should be a great motivation to relentlessly serve the Lord with the gifts He has given us! Going back to the reference above to “buy gold tried in the fire”, we have to ask ourselves whether we use our time, energy and resources on earth for works that will have eternal value. Everything else is “wood, hay and stubble” and will therefore not stand the test of God’s judgment and be rendered useless.
Another notable feature of the Laodicean church is that they cannot see their own condition – this church believes it is healthy! They are figuratively instructed to anoint their eyes so that they can see their condition from God’s perspective. In this climate of tolerance and political correctness, it is strongly discouraged to point out the doctrinal errors of churches – it is seen as unloving when it is actually unloving NOT to point out errors! How else can people see error unless someone else uses Scripture to help point it out? There are so many churches that religiously hold onto unbiblical rituals and/or traditions that add to or replace Jesus instructions and yet cannot see how they have strayed from Biblical truths instructions.
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. (Revelation 3:19)
What is the reason that Jesus uses such graphic language to rebuke this church in Laodicea? It’s because He loves them and He also loves us – sometimes the Lord will rebuke us, not because He does not love but because He does! The motivation for the rebuke is to set us straight and have us turn to Him – it is only for our own good! How often do we hear people complain that the suffering they experience in life or see in other peoples lives causes them to turn away from God?! Our reaction should be the opposite as it is a demonstration of God’s love – the problems and hurts we experience in these short earthly lives are nothing compared to the rewards that await those who trust Jesus!
if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)
This verse is very important. Jesus is OUTSIDE the church and He is knocking on the door waiting to be invited inside! How many churches are we surrounded by whom do not benefit from the presence of our Lord and instead do things their own way? This should cause every church to seriously assess how it measures up to the test of Scripture – our Lord is fair, unimposing and loving – He will ONLY come in if He is invited!
To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Revelation 3:21-22)
This promise is amazing – to sit with Christ on His throne is the reward that is offered to any member of the saved church of Christ. What a fantastic motivation to get our house in order return to the true uncompromising message of salvation.
The western church needs to hear the messages in all of the letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 and take these words VERY seriously – there are very few passages that are specifically directed at the church with such rich promises for faithfulness but also dire warnings for apostasy and lethargy.
Although there is obviously overlap in these letters and we must apply parts of all the teachings to our own churches, scholars suggest the letters are broadly applicable to today’s worldwide Christendom in the following way:
- Church of Thyatira (Revelation 2:24-29) – descriptive of the Roman Catholic church
- Church of Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6) – descriptive of the Protestant church
- Church of Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13)- descriptive of the faithful missionary church
- Church of Laodicea – descriptive of the end-time apostate church
Have a read of these letters for yourself and see if you agree? Today’s churches that exhibit many elements of Thyatira, Sardis and Laodicea could learn a lot from the persecuted Philadelphian churches that are so visibly and aggressively under attack in many places across the world. Whatever you believe about the relevance of the letters to the churches, they should cause us all to measure our churches against the descriptions outlined in Revelation 2/3 and the associated warnings/blessings that accompany faithfulness or apostasy.
These alarming letters to the churches should make very uncomfortable reading and they are an urgent call for action against complacency, yet when was the last time these letters were the subject of a sermon in your church? Do you normally hear the ‘nice’ bits of the Bible spoken on without being balanced by these warnings? Are there elements of Laodicea in your church? If so, it may be time to either do something about it, or find a Philadelphian church to attend instead!