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Special series: The revelation of Jesus Christ

Eighth in a series of eight

Laodicea: the church in the dilusion of worldliness

By James K. Bridges

(Revelation 3:14-22)

The church in Laodicea was “lukewarm,” having lost its relationship and broken its fellowship with Christ. Laodicea was a wealthy city that relied on three major industries — banking and finance, cloth and clothing, and medicine and a medical school. In Paul’s letter to the church in Colosse, he gave instruction that the reading of his letters be exchanged between the churches of Colosse and Laodicea (Colossians 4:16). The Laodiceans needed the teaching on the pre-eminent Christ to counter the empty philosophy of the world that had robbed them of their “hope of glory” which is “Christ in you” (Colossians 1:27).

The identification of the Author

“These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness” (3:14, NKJV).

The Lord used His divine titles to speak to the needs of the Laodiceans. First, Christ described himself as “the Amen,” a word denoting certainty, that which is firm and unchangeable. Jesus opened many of His sayings with the words “verily, verily,” literally “amen, amen,” which is to say, “I tell you the truth.” Christ is the God of truth. He is the last word. And, because He is completely trustworthy and reliable, Christ can be called “the Faithful and True Witness.”

“These things says … the Beginning of the creation of God” (3:14).

The church in Laodicea had become vulnerable to “every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). Evidently the heresy that plagued Colosse had infiltrated the church in Laodicea, distorting its understanding of Christ by denying the deity of the person of Christ. In response to this false teaching Paul wrote: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth” (Colossians 1:15,16). The word “beginning” in Revelation 3:14 and “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15 refer to the source of creation, the first cause, and the supremacy of the One who “is before all things, and in Him all things consist” (Colossians 1:17).

John wrote of Christ: “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3). The devil uses false teachings to deceive people about who Jesus really is, for in doing so he can keep them from getting saved. Paul made it clear that Christ is not only the source of God’s first creation, the world, but He is “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18), which means that He is the source of God’s second creation, the church: “He is the head of the body, the church … that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:18).

The evaluation of the church

“I know your works” (3:15).

This should have brought deep heart-searching to the pastor and members of the church. Let every church of Christ today take stock of their works, being reminded that one day our works will be tested by fire (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). There will be great loss to those whose works are destroyed by God’s fire, but great reward to those whose works endure.

“You are neither cold or hot. … Because you are lukewarm … I will spew you out of My mouth” (3:15,16).

Traditionally, these adjectives — cold, hot, lukewarm — have been interpreted to refer to the spiritual temperature of the Laodicean church members. The cold were unsaved and the hot were saved, and the lukewarm were unacceptable to Christ, thus they would be vomited out of His mouth and end up in an apostate condition worse than the unsaved. Some view this text differently and believe Christ is talking about usefulness and service. The Greek word for “cold” can mean cold to the freezing point; the Greek word for “hot” means hot to the boiling point. The word for “lukewarm” means tepid to a nauseating point. Cold water and ice serve so many useful purposes in life as do hot and boiling water. At Laodicea, that which should have been freezing cold or boiling hot was neither — it was nauseatingly lukewarm. The “lukewarm” spirit is characterized by indifference and neutrality. It is zealous for nothing but its own selfish pursuits and committed to nothing but its own love affair with the world and itself.

“[You] do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (3:17).

The church in Laodicea reached a state of delusion in which it came to believe its own propaganda, saying of itself, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” (3:17). This self-delusion caused them to persist in such arrogance in spite of the evidence to the contrary that Christ presented to them. A common delusion that material wealth brings to Christians is to falsely believe that “godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6:5). An extension of this is to believe that gain is a sign of godliness. The affluence of our American nation has given rise to a so-called “gospel of prosperity” that is being preached in multitudes of churches, claiming wealth is a sign of God’s favor and that all Christians should be wealthy. This kind of teaching, which takes the blessings of God to an unbiblical extreme, promotes a mercenary spirit and leads to delusions such as were destroying the Laodicean church.

The solution to the existing condition

“I counsel you to buy from Me” (3:18).

Fully aware that Laodicea was known for its wealth, clothing and medical industries, Christ spoke of their spiritual needs in similar terms. He advised the church to buy from Him pure “gold refined in the fire” (3:18), for this represented the true wealth of salvation by faith which is “more precious than gold” (1 Peter 1:7). Next, Christ counseled them to buy from Him “white garments” to clothe their nakedness (Revelation 3:18). These garments represent the righteousness of Christ and the apparel of the redeemed (19:8,14; cf.16:15). Lastly, Christ urged the Laodiceans to “anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” This too must be purchased from Christ in order to heal their spiritual blindness preventing them from seeing their real condition — wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked! Their delusion kept them from seeing that their deepest need was God.

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (3:19).

What a remarkable statement for Christ to make to a church that had forced Him out of their midst. Because of His love, He will keep reaching out to those for whom He died. Even His reproof and discipline are but expressions of His love. Christ expected the Laodiceans to respond to His love with an eagerness to repent (3:19) and to restore the relationship that they had with Christ in the beginning.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (3:20).

What a compassionate picture of the longsuffering of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ’s grace prevented Him from walking away and leaving the Laodiceans alone. But Christ also called on the Laodiceans to respond by hearing His voice and opening the door (3:20). Even grace has its limits, as Judas found out. If there is no response, the time will come when a pleading God will cease knocking at the door of the heart and let us alone.

All indications are that the 21st century has become a period in which churches are living in the same delusion of worldliness that captivated the church in Laodicea. In the United States, Laodicean blindness has led many Christians to ignore morality and righteousness in their political, social and economic decisions. Deluded by the spirit of the age, many churches have approved homosexuality, abortion and gay marriage, blindly claiming that the Scriptures endorse such abominations. Scripture explicitly states: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). It is not possible to love the world and the Father at the same time.

The good news of this message belongs to those who hear Christ’s voice and open the door to allow Him into their heart and life. When Christ is allowed entry, He comes in to provide life and fellowship with His people. Christ will come to develop a close relationship with His church, protecting them from the delusion of worldliness.

The consolation promised to the overcomers

“I will grant to sit with Me on My throne” (3:21).

In the closing of the Book of Revelation, John described the throne in the New Jerusalem as “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (22:1), which spoke of the joint reign of the Father and the Son after Christ “overcame [the world] and sat down with My Father on His throne” (3:21). To the overcomers of His church, Christ has promised a joint reign with Him on His throne.

An appropriate conclusion to the study of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 is to review the incentive promises Christ made to the overcomers in the letters to the seven churches:

• The privilege of eating from the tree of life (2:7)

• The crown of life (2:10)

• Protection from the second death (2:11)

• The hidden manna (2:17)

• A white stone with a new name written on it (2:17)

• Authority to rule the nations (2:26,27)

• The morning star (2:28)

• Clothed in white garments (3:5)

• Name never removed from the Book of Life (3:5)

• Acknowledged before the Father and the angels (3:5)

• Become a pillar in God’s temple (3:12)

• To have the name of God, of the new Jerusalem, and of Christ written on them (3:12)

• The right to sit with Christ on His heavenly throne (3:21).

Let the church of the 21st century contemplate these glorious promises and the indescribable future that they portray for the overcomers. Let us now commit ourselves to the Head of the church, the risen glorified Christ, pledging to obey His message to the universal church and, as Weymouth renders it, “Let all who have ears give heed to what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (3:22).

James K. Bridges is general treasurer of the Assemblies of God.

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This material will be found in expanded form in an upcoming book to be published by Gospel Publishing House.

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