8. The Church of Laodicea

Some believe that these letters of Revelation 2 and 3 were written specifically to those seven churches of Asia for their instruction. Others believe that each church listed, in sequence, represents a time period in the history of the Church, ending with Laodicea as the present day organized church system. And yet others believe the situations surrounding all seven churches are situations that can be found in different churches existing today. Perhaps all three scenarios may be found to have evidence of truth. There is no attempt to be cynical, but the connection between this final church, Laodicea, with the organized church systems of today is substantial and merits further thought.

We began this series on the seven churches of Revelation with the first chapter, “Laying the Foundation,” with this scripture and following quote:

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?”2 Cor. 13.5

“So, I would always ask myself, ‘Are we doing what the Lord has called us to do? Are we being what the Lord wants us to be? Are we functioning as He would have us function as members of His Body? Is our focus correct? Are we doctrinally sound or in error or misunderstanding? Is the nature of our worship truly acceptable…in Spirit and truth?’ With these and other such questions, there was the prayer, ‘Lord, expose us to Your light. Give us understanding. Give us an opportunity to repent from failings, these sins of missing the mark, so we may move on into Your present purposes, into Your land of promise, Your Kingdom.’”

And so we will look into this letter to the Church of Laodicea, as we have for the previous six church letters, as in looking into a mirror and closely examining ourselves that there be no error in judgement or estimation of ourselves. Along this line of thought, the singlemost prayer I ask of the Lord is that He not permit us to walk blindly in error, as with the case of this Laodicean church—But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” Rev. 3—that He grant us the opportunity to repent from “missing the mark” and to fortify those areas of strength. In this letter, however, there is regrettably no mentioning of strength or commendations. I wish to make some comment on the following four scriptures:

  1. These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true WitnessRev. 3.14
  2. I know your deeds; you are neither cold nor hotRev. 3.15
  3. But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. Rev. 3.17
  4. Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if… Rev. 3.20

The Faithful and True Witness

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true Witness,

the Originator of God’s creation.”Rev. 3.14

If Christ was to introduce Himself as “Savior,” that would have immediate personal implication, i.e., I am in need of His salvation. If He was to introduce Himself as “King,” I would know the intent of His heart, the nature of this aspect of His relation to me, and my need to acknowledge that. But here He is introducing Himself as the faithful and true Witness.” What implication does this have with the hearer of these words? What comes to mind? Perhaps that He is the only verifiably true witness of God the Father and His testimony is the only accurately true testimony. But also possibly that there is a lack or need in my life for such truthfulness of testimony and that I must come to the Source and draw from Him to fully understand what it is to be a true witness.

You see, for Jesus to say that He is “the faithful and true Witness” emphasizes the integrity of what is true, down to the inner makeup of His being—true inside and out. There are two sides of being a witness. The first is outward testifying what one knows, or understands, or sees. One may testify in court of a crime witnessed. A believer may serve as a witness to his understanding of the Gospel in words expressed through a testimony, song, or writings. One may witness in dress, not only propriety of dress, but adorning himself with a cross or fish symbol. This outward testimony may follow him, as well, in the religious practice of church attendance and participation. However, as with Christ, there is another side of being a witness—an ethical side.

An Ethical Witness. The ethical side of being a witness is moral—a life that conforms to what is right and good, to godly standards. This truth of the Gospel is not only outward in oral testimony and religious acts, but must be true inwardly as well. It is a testimony of Godly character or righteous behavior. It is an inner witness. John wrote that one is in darkness if he says one thing but does another. (See 1 Jn. 2.9) To those who only knew The Law, it is written, God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”Rm. 2.24 Do you see, Israel’s testimony of the only true God was proclaimed in word, dress, and all forms of religious practice. However, their lifestyle negated that testimony of God. I was always taught to bring honor to our family name and not to bring shame to it. At an early age I remember my mother saying of a relative who displayed disgraceful conduct, “And he calls himself ‘DeVitis.’” I am sure others have experienced the same. And, if we feel this way in the natural, how much more is a holy and righteous God offended having disgrace brought to His name? Judgement will undoubedly come.

Evil moral behavior is easily seen as the Gospel discrediting actions of a believer: adultery, fornication, deceptions, brawling, and the like. However, the micro-inspection of believers’ lives by non-believers equally extends into civil matters and their every day lifestyles as well. Paul wrote to Titus (see Chapter 2) that he speak sound doctrine to the older men, older women, young women and young men that, by their actions “the word of God may not be blasphemed.” The Greek word logos is used for “word” here meaning the sacred “message of God, the Gospel of Christ.” The intent is that this word be not profaned and dishonored. Their “works” were to be sober-minded, reverent, temperate, in love and obedience, patient, not slanderers, chast, discreet, and teachers of good things. *Servants were exhorted to be obedient to their own masters, to be well pleasing in all things, not even to answer back, but showing good honesty that they may “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things,” being a true witness.

*Regarding servants, see also 1 Tim. 6.1-2. This may be difficult for some to receive, but to receive it, and similar concepts, is a must. We may not be able to control civil or cultural institutions, but our testimony must remain true in it.

Paul concludes this chapter with:

He gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good works.”Titus 2.14

Thus their “works,” or good deeds, are their witness in what they say and what they do, morally and ethically, in testimony and in action.

Two-fold Sin. So, do you see that all such acts of disobedience, moral or civil, are a two-fold sin? To slander, lie, pilfer, be irreverant, drunk, and so on are sinful acts in themselves. But such action also discredits our “Christian” testimony of God as well. His, not our, righteous and holy character is blasphemed. In my lifetime, I have seen preachers, pastors, prominent men and women stand before congregations with tears streaming down their cheeks as they voice regret for having done such sin. They say they have brought shame upon their testimony, themselves, their families, and their church, and greatly regret and repent of it. Perhaps it is my skeptical nature that questions the genuineness of motive of such confessions. The final judge is God who knows the thoughts and intents of the heart. Forgiveness may come as grace found in the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, but judgement will also come, for there are consequences to our actions as Christians and our testimony of God and His Gospel of Christ.

Will we be like the man who built his house upon the rock, who called Christ “Lord, Lord” and then did what He said? Or will we be like the man who built his house upon the sand who also said, “Lord, Lord,” but did not act upon His words. To the one, when the floods came and the torrents crashed against the house, it stood, for it was well built. To the other, the house with no foundation collaspsed immediately under the torrents—and great was its destruction. (See Lk. 6.46-49) We are that house. In the end, testing will come, and judgment will also come upon this house.

Neither Cold Nor Hot

I know your deeds; you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were one or the other. So because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of My mouth!” Rev. 3.15-16

Someone once wrote that the church condition at Laodicea brought the Lord “moral nausea roused by tepid religion.” It is a harsh statement but deservingly so. Many in the Church world today have little inclination of the great gulf between Christianity as a religion and Christianity as a life.

Tepid Religion. Briefly stated, religion may be defined as a system of belief having a set of dogmas and practices that define the relationship between man and God. A given religion is further defined as containing sacred books, a set of doctrine (dogma), rites and rituals, worship, sacraments, moral codes, and organization. Entangled in Marxist philosophy, Communism views religion as the “opium of the masses,” in that it gives people only an illusion of happiness for something better to come, and that must be abandoned for real happiness to occur now. The world, in general, treats “religion” as something good, in that it helps bring about a peaceful society, except of course for radical elements of many religious groups who wage war on opposing religions.

To be linked to tepid religion is to believe the “practice” of that religious system is what is needed to sustain your relationship with God, and to be an eventual inheritor of His heaven and eternal life. Of that definition, the word “practice” should set off an alarm in one’s head. Some synonyms for the word practice are: repetition, habitual, customary, routine, traditional, and expected procedure. Does this define the spiritual goal in one’s life, to perfect this practice? The apostle Paul tried this with all his heart, and fell miserably short. When confronted with something greater than religious practice, he melted in its presence and proclaimed, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ…and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” Phil. 3.7-8

Life. Undoubtedly, The Law, the prophets, and the Psalms (Old Testament) were the highest form of religion ever known. This religion was to be a testimony to the One and only true God. There was even a sense of His presence in their midst as His Spirit’s presence was in the tabernacle. The statutes, rituals, and practices of The Law, the words of the prophets documented, and the prayers and worship songs of the Psalms were sacred and holy.

But even this pinnacle of religion, The Law, is brought to an abrupt end with the coming of Christ: “For Christ is the end of The Law for righteousness for everyone who believes.” Rm. 10.4 The Law had its place as a predicessor to Christ, as a natural “primer” before the substance of spiritual reality. It was the old physical tabernacle, or temple, being replaced with our bodies as the living temple. It was the circumcision of the flesh now replaced by circumcision of the heart. Hebrews 8.13 puts it this way: “In speaking of a new covenant (of Christ), He has made the first one (The Law)obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.” So religion serves only as a forerunner for what is greater and is to follow, the reality of life in Christ. It is spontaneous, an outflow from within.

Lukewarm, Hot, or Cold. To be “cold” is absence of the Christ life, needing to be born again of the seed of Christ. In the last day, this realm of unbelievers will come under an altogether separate judgement for their sins and unbelief. To be “hot” expresses a zeal born out of an indwelling passion. As it is written, Do not let your zeal subside; keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, persistent in prayer. Share with the saints who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Rm. 12.11-13 This is a realm free of statutes, regulations, and the peaks and valleys of emotions. It is living and finding expression of “His” life. When one is apprehended by such life, he is compelled to press towards God’s highest calling in his life. (See Phil. 3.12-14)

To be “lukewarm” is the realm of spiritual indifference. It is the profession of the Gospel doctrine amid the shroud of religious practices. It is Christianity in talk but not in walk. It professes the Gospel but is utterly uneffected by it. These are content in their religion but profane the life it is to bring. The ominous words of Peter rings true,

If indeed they have escaped the corruption of the world through their knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,only to be entangled and overcome by it again, their final condition is worse than it was at first.  It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than to have known it and turned away from the holy commandment passed on to them.  Of them the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit,’and, ‘A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.’”2 Pet 2.20-22

Retribution. We just read that these “lukewarm” believers’ “final condition is worse than it was at first” and that it would be “better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than to have known it and turned away.” These are very menacing words. But read further in Hebrews,

How much more severely do you think one deserves to be punished who has trampled on Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Heb. 10.29-31

There is a Greek word for “punishment” that is kinder. It means remedial or corrective punishment, as one who would discipline his children for bad behavior. Here, however, the Greek word for “punishment” means vengence or retribution. It is vindictive punishment. It is upon judgment which fully executes the core-values (standards) of the judge—from the inner person of the judge. In this case, God is the judge and His righteous standards have been grossly perverted and violated by His children. There will be a time in which it is too late to cry for mercy, it will be a time of judgement. The nature and duration of the doom to come on such that remain subject to it is left in obscurity. It speaks only of an undefined expectation of something terrible. We cannot sit idlely by without doing all that is within our abilities to confront this lukewarmness in the Church—if we truly have a love of the brethren.

Not Realizing You Are Wretched…

You say, ‘I am rich; I have grown wealthy and need nothing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” Rev. 3.17 

Not realizing one’s state is a most deplorable condition. If one cannot see of his badness, why should he repent of his ‘goodness’? Man’s self-centerness is at the center of all his problems and he cannot see this because of the exalted position of his ego. There seems to be two opposing forces driving the character of man: his ego and his humility. They are diometrically opposed to one another. At the fall of man (Adam), his ego was catapulted to the top of his soul life leaving humility suppressed somewhere deep below. Since then, the natural man is caught up with “self”: his self-satisfaction, self-deception, self-worth, self-respect, self-image, and self-confidence.

The self-satisfied pride of the Pharisee caused him to regard with complacent pity the condition of the publican (tax-collector). (See Lk. 18.9-14) Like the hypocritical Pharisees, all the church of Laodicea could see was their “goodness” defined by self accomplishments perhaps in knowledge, numbers, buildings, organization, and pompous behavior. Because no apparent persecution was mentioned, they prided themselves in their diplomatic abilities to live in harmony with pagan society. They not only missed the mark, they muffed the whole target. The most fundamental core of Christ’s teaching was lacking:

Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Mt. 11:29

The spirit of Christ is the spirit of humility. Pride, arrogance, control, manipulation, and self-exaltation all rise to dominance in its absence. But goodness, gentleness, and righteousness flow from its presence. God our Father longs for such a family, a family after the seed of His Son:

For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.’” Is. 57.15

I Stand at the Door and Knock…

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door,

I will come in and sup with him, and he with Me.”Rev. 3.20

Behold I stand at the door and knock.”The particular verb tense here for “stand” is “I have stood,” or literally for a long time and still stand, even at this instant. The persistence of the Lord for those that are His begins when they are born of His seed in the new birth, and extends into eternity. He is the Great Shepherd (Heb. 13.20), the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5.4) set to watch over and care for the Father’s family and His Church—the eventual bride to be. Although this particular verse is often interpreted in a more general way to persuade an unbeliever of the Gospel, it must be remembered that this letter was written to the church of Laodicea and not to the world in general. And, the following sentence in this verse, “If anyone hears…,” shows this letter also addresses the individual believers of that church (or of any church, then or today, that reads this letter).

The tragedy is that Christ now finds Himself outside wanting to re-enter into a relationship with the believer. A door of separation has come between them and has isolated them in their relationship. That door most obviously must be the conditions leading to their lukewarm condition. This was addressed previously in this lesson. After His crucifixion and resurrection, Christ’s disciples were also behind shut doors. Perhaps there was an outer door and an inner door. At that time, Christ did not knock or call to them, He simply appeared to them behind the closed doors. But these doors were not one of separation from their Lord, it was separation in fear of the outside world. Conversely, this closed door of Laodicean believers, is personal. This is a formidable door, perhaps even with a lock that can only be unlocked and opened from within. So Christ remains outside the door knocking and calling, knocking and calling, for the believer to open the door and renew the intimacy of relationship.

Principle of Reciprocity. Reciprocity is not a condition for agape or Godly love. This love is simply emitted from an individual’s heart even as energy is radiated from the sun. It is free to any and all who would receive it. It is, however, a precondition for phileo or soulish love, for this kind of love requires a response. Phileo is an emotional love from which fondness and pleasure is derived. Likewise, reciprocity is needed for a relationship to occur, to have a close rapport and caring bond with another. Whether social, family, or spiritual, a mutual exchange must occur to strengthen and benefit the relationship. This give and take is not always in balance. Most mothers I know are far more on the supply side of this economy. So too is Christ. Yet, reciprocity is still needed for these relationships to thrive. The greater the reciprocity or mutual exchange the stronger the relationship.

The “Laodicean” lukewarm believer has isolated himself from Christ. He has found his satisfaction in his religion and self-accomplishments. Because others with whom he associates are in the same condition, he is deceived into believing this is the normal Christian life. While other churches have isolated themselves from the world and are under persecution, this church has found a way to blend together the world and their faith so they live “comfortably” in both. They believe they are blessed with such a lifestyle. Regular church attendance, trying to do what is morally right, working in service to the church and its members, and bringing worldly or secular elements into the church falls infinitely (and eternally) short of the personal spiritual relationship Christ is seeking. Such a loss in relationship with Christ, who also connects us with the Father, has eternal consequences.

An immediate and joyful response follows when one first perceives the knock on the door, and realizes the voice of the Lord. “Arise!” Hallelujah! Leave the table at which you sit, or the comfortable chair where you are relaxed, or the bed in which you lie. Arise, go and unbolt the door and unlatch it. The click of the latch is as a trumpet sounding a new beginning. It stirs the heart of the inward man not knowing what to expect save a fresh encounter with the living Christ, the Lamb of God, the Savior and Redeemer, the Almighty God. Open wide the door of relationship and embrace Him. In a spiritual way this becomes the “aha” moment, the “eureka” “I have found it (Him),” the unexpected realization “I have discovered Christ.” Jesus defined eternal life, not just as vitality, but as life in an experiencing relationship. It is to come into an experiential knowledge of the Father and the Son. (Jn. 17.3) Life is freedom, deliverance, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

I Will Come In and Sup…”What a grand conclusion to this letter, and all the letters to the seven churches, I will come in and sup with him, and he with Me.” Tell me one thing in all your life that you would prefer to this? What is higher or more precious? Wealth? Well being? Abundance? Escape? Honor? Prestige? Power? To sup with Him is to know, “to know!” the abiding Christ in one’s heart or inward being. (Eph. 3.17) It is above all learning about Jesus Christ, His life, and sacrifice, and reigning divinity. It is to know Him, the One who abides within a living relationship. Regardless of life’s situations and faulty former character, He abides. All of the past will be sorted out in His timing and His way. This may be fully expected and anticipated. To sup with Him is to be refreshed with His spiritual gifts and graces. They are to come alive in the inward man.

The supper was then, and is now, a principle social meal. Oh, how the world has invaded this special time of intimacy and friendship—to dine together—a time to converse, relate, discover and connect with others. “I will come in and sup with him, and he with Me.” It is a reciprocal time of giving and receiving, of relating and learning. Just following His crucifixion and resurrection, Christ joined Himself with two disciples returning home on the road to Emmaus. They did not recognize Him but were drawn to Him. They asked Him to stay with them as the evening was late. “Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were open and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight. And they said to one another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?’” Lk. 24.30-32 That was one meal these two disciples would never forget.

The Consummation. As the habit of many, those of the little flock with whom I gather, break bread weekly. It is a precious time of communion and thanksgiving. Oh, the elements of communion, the bread and the cup, are quite tangible as we see, and hold, and taste of them. But our conversation is of heaven, in the spirit, where we eat of His body and drink of His blood, where we sit at His table and are in communion with Him. Place, time, material things, and symbolism, all vanish in the spiritual reality of the meal with our Lord.

The tabernacle in the wilderness was a shadow of the real heavenly tabernacle. The marriage of a man and woman is a shadow of the heavenly reality of Christ and His Church. The communion meal is also a shadow of the blessed communion which shall be at the marriage supper of the Lamb, of which the Lord’s supper that we weekly partake is but a foretaste. (See Rev. 19.7-9) Here, the Church will be joined to Christ, as His eternal Bride. Amen.

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