THE REVELATION OF CHRIST
Lesson Number 9
THE MESSAGE TO LAODICEA
"And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: 'I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. 'So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 'Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. 'Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent. 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me. 'He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down 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."" (Rev 3:14-22, NASB)
We come now to the last of the seven churches. Messages have been delivered to real historical congregations, with real spiritual conditions. Many have seen in these churches as ages of history, during which the people of God have obtained the characteristics mentioned in the seven churches of Asia. That this is so, I cannot deny. It does, however, require a studied effort to identify the periods. Too, they are not always found in the strict chronological sequence of the messages. That is indication that a more fundamental reality can be seen in these messages. Our teaching should always accentuate primary matters, making provision for valid subsidiary applications. It is on the part of wisdom to avoid developing novel explanations of Scripture that have a strong appeal to flesh. If our view of Revelation attracts the interest of those disinterested in God and His salvation, it is probably not true.
A Brief Review
The messages to the churches underscore the nature of Satan's attack upon the people of God. That assault remains consistent throughout the ages, making Christ's word to these seven churches relevant during all ages of history. A brief review of his assault tactics should serve to alert us to the nature of our warfare.
Our adversary aggressively promotes a religion with doctrinal precision, that lacks a primary love for the Son of God (example: Ephesus--2:1-7). He also attacks the faithful through devout religious advocates, who are intimidated by the truth of God, and among whom Satan freely works (example: Smyrna--2:8-11). With remarkable tenacity, the devil encourages the tolerance of false teaching and immorality within the church (example: Pergamum--2:12-17). Satan also incites the church to allow false teaches to promote his cause in the assembly, without restraint (example: Thyatira--2:18-29). With great perseverance, the enemy of our souls advances dead religion--form without power (example: Sardis--3:1- 6). Through oppression and opposition, the devil also seeks to deplete the strength of the church, wearing it down so it has but a little strength (example: Philadelphia (3:7-12). Now, in the church in Laodicea, we witness the old serpent's tactic of compromise. He advances the type of religion that takes no solid stance on anything--one that is lukewarm and unassertive: a religion that is bereft of anything from God, yet possesses everything from the world. Wherever these characteristics are found, the devil is at work! This is HOW he seeks to bring down the people of God!
We also behold in these churches commendable qualities--things approved and applauded by Jesus. Among these are, an insistence on proper teaching (Ephesus), continuance in good works in spite of tribulation and poverty (Smyrna), and holding fast to Christ's name and not denying His faith, even while dwelling in Satan's seat (Pergamum). Think of how Jesus commends loving service, faith, and the growth of good deeds (Thyatira). Even in deteriorating assemblies, Jesus recognizes the existence of things about to die, and encourages their renewal (Sardis). It is also His manner to open effective doors of opportunity to the faithful, even though they have but a little strength (Philadelphia). The Lord Jesus always looks for things to commend and encourage. Now, for the first time, we will confront a church in which nothing good can be found.
Think of the faithfulness of our Lord, clearly seen in His words to these seven churches. He always commends what is good. You can count on Him to rebuke what is wrong. He will also provide a twofold incentive to recover from sin: threats of judgment, and promises to be obtained. The deeper the sin, the greater the promise, and the more severe the threat of judgment. The Lord always points to the END--to the grand consummation, when the warfare will be completed, and we will reign forever with Him. Stand and marvel at the magnitude of these expressions. (1) Eating from the tree of life in the midst of the paradise of God (Ephesus, 2:7). (2) A crown of life, and not being hurt by the second death (Smyrna, 2:10-11). (3) Eating of the hidden manna, and receiving a new name (Pergamum, 2:17). (4) Receiving power over the nations, and ruling them with a rod of iron (Thyatira, 2:26-27). (5) Being clothed in white raiment, not being blotted out of the book of life, and being confessed before the Father and the angels (Sardis, 3:5). (6) Being made a pillar in the temple of God, going no more out, and having the name of God, the holy city, and Christ's new name, written upon them (Philadelphia, 3:12). (7) Sitting with Jesus in His throne (Laodicea, 3:21).
The Lesson to be Learned
You must not fail to see the manner of the heavenly Kingdom in these messages! The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is the object of Satan's attack--a message often repeated in this book (9:1-11; 12:3-15; 13:1-7; 16:13; 19:20). It is also the subject of the King's scrutiny, the object of Divine love, and the focus of great promises. Jesus is the focus of heaven, and the church is the focus on earth. Because Satan has no access to heaven, having been expelled from it, he has focused upon the body of the redeemed. But He is not the only one giving heed to this holy band! The Lord Jesus Himself, Who is over Satan and his hierarchy of evil, also pays close heed to the church. If the church will reciprocate by giving their undivided attention to Him, He will carry them through the attacks of the evil one. That is the overriding message of this grand book!
Any form of religion, regardless of its popularity, that leaves the church vulnerable to the devices of the wicked one (as described in this book) is of the devil himself. It is to be zealously avoided and opposed. A valid spiritual ministry is one which promotes the virtues that Jesus commends. It is one where the promises of Christ are affirmed with consistency, being held out before the people as a strong incentive to participation with Christ. Wherever an aggressive effort is being made to obtain the promises, Jesus is at work, and victory is on the way. It will be startling to many to view the churches in this manner. There will be no place found for fleshly assessments, worldly acclaim, or glorying in appearance.
The Final Church Is Assessed
Now we come to the final assessment of the seven churches in Asia. The Lord Jesus is zealous to have this church ready for what is to come. He wants it to survive the onslaught of the wicked one, and obtain the promises He has procured for them. Although nothing of merit is found in this church, it can still be recovered if it will hear "what the Spirit is saying to the churches." Too, this is a message for individuals, who also can possess the handicaps or advantages ascribed to these churches. Our spiritual hearing must be keen and perceptive as we hear this final message! This is the Savior speaking, and He speaks in strict harmony with His nature, and with the "eternal purpose" of God Almighty. He is NOT assessing the church in view of Grecian culture, but in view of the purpose for which He has purchased it. The acclaim it has received in the world is of little consequence to Jesus. The entire worldly order has been rejected and repudiated by God. It is not salvageable! To be accepted by God, there must be regeneration--a birth into a new realm! The church begins its life in this realm, and it must never leave it. Like a fish dies when it is removed from the water, so the church dies when it is removed from heavenly places. It is not possible to over-emphasis the seriousness of the message of this book! It is appropriate yea, imperative, for our time.
WHO IS SPEAKING?
" . . . The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this . . . " (NASB). The word "Amen" means trustworthy, surely, or so be it. It speaks of accuracy and finality, stability and assuredness. The word is used 151 times from Matthew through Revelation, and 30 times from Numbers through Jeremiah. This is a Kingdom word, denoting the sureness of Divine commitment. Under the Law, the people were required to say "Amen" at the reading of the curses of God (Deut 27:15-26). Three times the expression "Amen and Amen" is used in the Psalms (41:13; 72:19; 89:52). The Lord Jesus used this word 106 times in the Gospels (frequently translated "Verily"--KJV, or "Truly" NASB, or "assuredly" NKJV). showing the nature of the words He communicated. They were firm, unchangeable, and trustworthy.
When Jesus declares He is "The Amen," He means He is God's final Word a sure and steadfast Foundation upon which faith is firmly secured. Firmness, constancy and immutability are in the name, "AMEN!" Everything about Him is characterized by these qualities His Person, His words, His power, blood, and righteousness. There is nothing about Him or His work that does not have the Name "AMEN!" written over it.
Faithful and True Witness
In speaking to this church as "the AMEN!" Jesus is saying His assessment is the true and final one. He speaks in the capacity of "the faithful and true Witness." He is not only the One through Whom God is speaking in these "last days" (Heb 1:1-2), He is the One through Whom the churches are evaluated, commended, rebuked, and admonished. He is faithful to make assessments, and true in the conveyance of what He finds. He is faithful to God's "eternal purpose" in His evaluations, and absolutely true in His assessments. He is also faithful to judge when judgment is required, and faithful to communicate when communication is required. He is the "Witness," telling what He has beheld, and withholding nothing that is profitable. He is not providing a pointless, but a truthful witness.
The Beginning of the Creation of God
But Jesus also declares Himself to be "the Beginning of the creation of God." Here is a most unique designation, and it has been subjected to the abuse of the enemies of Christ. Of old time, the Arians used this expression to disprove the Deity of Christ. They declared it means Jesus was the first One created. This same view is aggressively entertained and taught by the Jehovah's Witnesses. This phrase is to be understood to mean Jesus is the Beginning, the Author, or Source of everything God has created and He has created "all things." It is another way of saying the creation of all things was through Him. As it is written, " . . . God, who created all things by Jesus Christ" (Eph 3:9). Elsewhere the Spirits elaborates on the title to which Christ refers to Himself. " . . . the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. 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, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist (or, are held together)" (Col 1:13- 17). In the next chapter of Revelation (Chapter 4), this aspect of Jesus is again mentioned. "You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created" (4:11).
THE CHURCH IN LAODICEA
"And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write . . . " (NASB). This city was located about 50 miles south-east of Philadelphia. Spiritually, as we will see, it was much further than that! Hierapolis and Colossae were about eight miles from Laodicea. It received its name from Antiochus II, in honor of his wife Laodice. Commercially, this was a wealthy city, trading in woolen materials. The indifferent spirit which it possessed unfortunately crept into the church there, requiring a stern word form the King.
Here is a classic example of the effects a culture can have upon a church. Unless the people of God set themselves to be separate from the world, they will assimilate its manners, and incur the judgment of Christ Jesus. This is a particularly needful word in our day, when the church can scarcely be distinguished from the world, and appears to have little concern about that circumstance. It has absorbed the world's language, manners, and philosophy, and has thus become spiritually impotent. The spirit of accommodation has descended like a plague upon the Western church. From its attire to its music, and from its education to its methods, it has been wedded to this world, and "The World" is its wedded name. Much of this is being done in the name of evangelism, purporting to be an effort to reach the world for Jesus. But it has not been effective to alter the course of society. Rather, the taint of the world has splashed upon the professed church. Like the church in Laodicea, it has been contaminated with the society around it.
History confirms there was no violent break in Laodicea between the Grecian and Christian cultures. Their condition was very much like that of our place and time. The word must continue to be sounded, "Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty" (2 Cor 6:17-18, NKJV). The life of faith is difficult enough while obeying this requirement, it is impossible to live in concert with God apart from it.
Paul had great inner conflict for this church. "For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ" (Col 2:1-2).
Epaphras had a great zeal for this church. "For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea" (Col 4:13). The Colossians told to salute this church. "Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea" (Col 4:15). The Colossian letter was to be read to the church in Laodicea, who had also received an epistle from Paul. "And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea" (Col 4:16).
It is difficult to conceive of a church being given greater advantage! The heart and prayers of the most prodigious Apostle who ever lived were for it. One of the premier Kingdom-men of the first century had a great zeal for this church, seeking its spiritual betterment and maturity. They shared Scripture with a sister congregation, being exposed to the very Word of God a stirring proclamation of the nature and effectiveness of New Covenant life.
We learn from this that spiritual advantages do not necessarily bring a better spiritual condition. The state of the heart determines whether or not we profit from exposure to the good things of God. A classic example of this is also found in Israel's rejection of the very Son of God "God manifest in the flesh" (1 Tim 3:16). Their house, Jesus declared, was "left desolate" because of that inexcusable rejection (Matt 23:38; Luke 13:35). In a blistering rebuke of the condition of the Jews, Jesus lamented, "you did not know the time of your visitation" (Luke 19:44). A knowledge spiritually decadent conditions must not in any way deter us from zealously and powerfully declaring the Word of the King. We must be tireless in our efforts to edify the people of God.
If a church like Laodicea can deteriorate to the point where it becomes obnoxious to Christ, AFTER it has been exposed to much truth, and had been cared for by godly men, what can happen to a church that lacks such spiritual advantages! No one should be surprised at the state of deterioration in churches all around us. With a remarkable decline in Scriptural preaching and spiritual perspective, churches that please Jesus will be exceeding rare. This is a perception that must be gained before any measurable improvement can occur in our churches. We do not need programs, strategies, and contemporary methods. If Laodicea could drift with the advantages of Apostolic teaching, concern, and prayers, what must we expect in our time- -when spiritual shallowness, brevity, and fleshly accommodations dominate the church?
It is true, some call upon us to turn our eyes from this condition, but we must not allow such indifference to grip our hearts. We are living in a generation that is being subjected to preaching and teaching with little, if any, eternal relevance. It is altogether too common for entire churches to function year after year without any acute awareness of the "Amen the Faithful and True Witness." Those with a heart for God cannot overlook this condition!
THE WRETCHED CONDITION
"I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot" (NASB). When Jesus turned water into wine, it is said the "good wine" was served last (John 2:10). This is the nature of the heavenly Kingdom -- we progress from worse to better, from death to life, from the inferior to the superior. We are being oriented for glory for the presence of the Lord, and for eternal involvements with Him. We were raised from death to life, and there is no room in Jesus for deterioration, decline, or backward motion! The best is always last in Jesus! The best realm is last! The best responsibility is last! The best body is last! The best commendation is last!
This manner is not reflected, however, in the messages to the seven churches in Asia. In this case, the worst church is confronted last. In spite of the investments of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the church, "perilous times" shall descend upon it in the latter times It would be assaulted with a "form of godliness that denies the power thereof" (2 Tim 3:1-7). The church at Laodicea provides a prelude to those times. The peril of their condition was not violence, or aggression for the wrong thing. They were not "hot," and they were not "cold." There was a spiritual tepidness about them that could settle down in any environment. Saints were not helped by them, and Satan was not hindered. Righteousness was not advanced, and unrighteousness was not suppressed.
Other ways of saying "neither cold not hot" are lukewarm halfhearted, indifferent, unenthusiastic, perfunctory, spiritless, apathetic, lackadaisical, and uninterested. Here was salt that was, at the very least, losing its "savor" or flavor. If this occurred, the Laodiceans would be "good for nothing," having no Divine utility at all (Matt 5:13). Men have learned to live with this spiritual condition, but Jesus has not. We will find from His words that it will NOT be tolerated.
There is more hope for a persecutor of the church, than for an indifferent and disinterested soul (Gal 1:13)! A woman of the street, steeped in sin, can be touched by Jesus sooner than someone who remains unaffected by either truth or the lie (Matt 26:7-10). You can more easily covert a tax collector who may have unjustly taken from people, than turn a heart to God that is overcome by the sleep of disinterest (Luke 19:8- 10). Those who aggressively opposed and crucified the Lord of glory can be brought to repentance more readily than a sluggardly and halfhearted soul (Acts 2:37).
It is not possible to overstate the serious of the Laodicean condition! There is more hope for a cold and calculating sinner than for one who has been awakened by the glorious Gospel, only to lapse into self- contentment and inattentiveness. Unless this condition is corrected, there is no hope of salvation. Only condemnation awaits the indifferent soul! They may have avoided what is conceived to be the deeper sins, but they will not be able to avoid the wrath of God.
Over the years I have noted that those who are zealous in their embrace of error are easier to reach with the truth than those who are indifferent and apathetic. Yet, I know of countless religious people who choose to company with the spiritually nonchalant and unconcerned. They suppose that the absence of controversy equates to fellowship, and the soul who listens but yields no response is not so bad, after all. However, we will find the words of the Lord Jesus to be completely intolerant of this condition.
THE DIVINE RESPONSE
"So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth" (NASB). The KJV uses the word "spue"or "spew," while the NKJV uses the stronger word "vomit." The word used here ( æ åà , em-eh'-o), does, indeed, mean "vomit." The technical meaning of this word is to vomit, to reject with extreme disgust, and is here alone in Scripture. It speaks of something causing nausea, that is repulsive, and highly offensive! Here is an aspect of the Divine character that is apparently little known. There are some things with which the Lord is completely intolerant. He will simply not endure their presence, and woe be to the person or church that insists on keeping them!
God revealed His impatience with perfunctory, or superficial and half-hearted, religion under the Law. Give heed to the vivid language spoken through Isaiah the prophet. "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me? Says the LORD. I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, Or of lambs or goats. When you come to appear before Me, Who has required this from your hand, To trample My courts? Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies; I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them" (Isa 1:11-14).
Hear the words of Amos, as he thunders the sentiments of the Lord. "I hate, I despise your feast days, And I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs, For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments" (Amos 5:21-23).
Jeremiah also voiced this perspective of the Divine character. "Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, Nor your sacrifices sweet to Me" (Jer 6:20). Hosea spoke of God's people offering sacrifices as commanded, only for them to be rejected by the Lord (Hos 8:13). Solomon declared the "sacrifice of the wicked" to be an "abomination to the Lord" (Prov 15:8). There is no greater wickedness than being indifferent to the Lord of glory!
The "lukewarm" are people who, like Israel in Elijah's day, "halt between two opinions" (1 Kgs 18:21). They cannot decide whether to fight against the Lord, or to fight with Him! They linger in what they imagine to be a neutral state, where the truth is set aside for a time of emergency. They do not take it into their heart, nor do they aggressively thrust it from them. The lukewarm do not throw stones at those choosing to walk on the highway to glory, but neither do they walk with them. How despicable they are to Jesus!
Yes! There are some religious activities, performed by people who wear the name of Christ, that are rejected by the Lord. They are not acceptable. What is more, they are offensive to the Lord, repugnant and obnoxious to Him because they come from disinterested hearts. Those who insist on remaining in this dangerous place must hear the voice of the Lord: "I will vomit you out of My mouth" (NKJV). Jesus is not jesting about this! The church in Laodicea was in serious jeopardy, and yet were remarkably religious! Do not suppose for a fleeting moment that this condition does not exist all about us. There are myriads within this very area who regularly are subjected to the Word of God in some form, yet remain totally indifferent to it. They do not oppose the Word, nor do they heartily embrace it. They do not object to its propagation, nor do they insist upon it being declared. They are quite willing to settle for limited exposure to the word of their salvation, but do not count upon them to hide it in their heart, or persecute those who affirm it. Such individuals, be they cultured or not, are obnoxious to Jesus. He will not forbear them for long. O, that the church were more sensitive to the word of the Lord!
What Does This Mean?
What does it mean to be "vomited" out of the mouth of the Lord? For some, it simply means a loss of reward, or the receiving of a lesser station in heaven, so to speak. Such sophists imagine that it is not possible to fall way or lose your salvation, and thus they have no recourse but to wrest the words of Jesus. But their theology will not alter this expression. It will stand throughout the history of the world, and face all who opposed it in the day of the Lord (John 12:48).
Jesus is speaking of disassociating this church from Himself of unchurching them, so to speak. He would not allow them to maintain identity with Himself, for they were at variance with Him. He has wrought a great salvation, entering into it with great zeal (Psa 69:9; John 2:17). Our Lord will not tolerate an attitude toward Himself and His great salvation that is so unlike His own. Although the Laodiceans were close to Christ's heart close enough for Him to send this solemn warning if they did not recover from lukewarmness, He would tear them from His heart, refusing affiliation with them. They could have not part with Him in this matter!
To be vomited from the mouth of the Lord equates to being rejected by Him, cast from His presence, and disinherited. If one imagines being disinherited is an impossibility in God's kingdom, let him think more soberly. Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:24). Esau lost his inheritance because he failed to be aggressive to keep it (Heb 12:16-17). Israel was cast out of Canaan (Lev 18:26; Jer 9:19). There were some angels who did not keep their "first estate" (Jude 6). The kingdom was taken from Saul (1 Sam 28:17). Judas lost his bishopric (Acts 1:20). In a telling parable concerning the nature of the Kingdom of God, Jesus spoke of a lukewarm person. The individual was allocated a portion of the master's goods to keep and manage until he returned. But the steward buried his stewardship in disinterest. He did not destroy it in hatred, nor possess it in thankfulness. The word of the Lord concerning him is this: " . . . from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away" (Matt 25:29). The person was a real steward, received a real stewardship, and was really expelled.
Rest assured, those who are severed from Jesus when they leave this world, will not be united with Him in heaven. Those whom Jesus rejects here, will not be accepted there! As obvious as that may appear, some still insist on believing such cannot happen! Whatever you may think about this text, it is in your eternal interest to do whatever is necessary to NOT become repulsive and sickening to Jesus! You may have heard that Jesus will overlook indifference. See to it that you do not believe it. The condition of the church in Laodicea, like that of Israel of old, "were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" (Rom 15:4).
AN IMPROPER AND A PROPER ASSESSMENT
"Because you say, 'I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,' and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked . . . " (NASB). The church at Laodicea had been taking about itself and the Lord had heard it! This reminds me of a solemn warning in Ecclesiastes 10:20. "Do not curse the king, even in your thought; Do not curse the rich, even in your bedroom; For a bird of the air may carry your voice, And a bird in flight may tell the matter." While, from, a heavenly perspective, this seems rather elementary, it is not so obvious to many churches today. In fact, it was not obvious to the church in Laodicea. They conducted their lives and provided self-assessments without regard to their King. Now, He will inform them of what they said, and of its validity.
How comfortably this church must have been sitting! Although nothing could have been further from the truth, they said, "I am rich, and have become wealthy." If there would have been an Asian brotherhood journal, they would have been written up in it. Someone once observed that spiritual pride and lukewarmness are often united by worldly prosperity. Here was a church that was very pleased with itself. The city of Laodicea, we are told, was a very successful commercial city, fairly bulging in wealth. Apparently this lukewarm church had profited much from its environment. It probably had several influential and financially prosperous people in it. You might compare it to the First Church of the Frigidaire residing in the Beverly Hills section of Los Angeles or a thriving congregation in Manhattan, New York. It is not that it is wrong for churches to exist in such places. But, in such environs, they are to be "blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life," like the church in Philippi" (Phil 2:15-16). Where such a church exists, God is glorified, Jesus is honored, and hope is held out for the salvation of men. However, this was not the status of the Laodicean church.
There is a wave of prosperity teaching today that is of great concern to me. People are being taught that poverty is a curse, and prosperity is a blessing. They are told that "the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just" (Prov 13:22), and that they can expect immediate distribution. Notice, the wealth of the sinner is "STORED UP for the just, or righteous ones." The distribution of that wealth, it is true, is at the discretion of our Lord. You may or may not experience some of it in this life, but the bulk of the dispersion will be in the world to come. That is when "the meek" will "inherit the earth" (Matt 5:5), "all things" (Rev 21:7), and an "inheritance incorruptible, that fadeth not away" (1 Pet 1:4). It is true, God has decreed that the sinner will not be able to keep his wealth he must let go of it! Some do not let go until they die like the rich man of Lazarus fame. Even in his case, Lazarus, who was "just," did not receive wealth of the rich man in this world, but died a "beggar" still (Luke 16:20-26).
Even if the example of Laodicea were not in the Scriptures, we have sufficient warnings to dissuade us from placing confidence in wealth, supposing it gives us the advantage. Is it not written that some who hear the precious Word of the Kingdom "go out and are choked with . . . riches" (Luke 8:14)? And what of those who set their minds to be rich to be financially secure and stable, imagining that to be a greater blessing than it really is? How poignantly the Spirit speaks to this subject. "But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Tim 6:9-10). The vividness with which James, the brother of our Lord, spoke to oppressive rich men engages all the faculties of the mind. "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days" (James 5:1-3). Whatever you think about the distribution of the wealth of sinners, and the benefits of having an abundance of resources, you had better temper it with the assessments of the Holy Spirit and our blessed Lord.
I do not doubt that the church in Laodicea was highly respected by the city. Perhaps visiting merchants came to their gatherings, and significant contributions were made to religious causes. Whatever the case, we will find that Christ's evaluation is the only one honored in heaven! It is true, as is written in Proverbs 27:2, "Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips." A concentrated effort must be expended by the church to obtain a favorable appraisal from Jesus. I find it interesting that some consider such an effort an attempt to be saved by works. Rather, let us view the situation this way: without Christ's approval and acceptance, eternal rejection is sure.
Christ's assessment of this church was not a mere commentary on their external appearance or public words. It was an evaluation of their true spiritual condition. Although the church in Laodicea may actually have declared they did not need anything, I do not believe that is the burden of Christ's reference. Whether or not they affirmed this in their speech, they confessed it in their manner. They were conducting themselves as though Jesus did not exist. They were not relying upon Divine resources, but were quite content with what they possessed in the flesh. Like the "fool" of Psalm 14:1 and 53:1, they had said "in their heart, There is no God." There formal position may very well have acknowledged the existence of God, Christ, and "grace to help in time of need," but they really did not rely upon what they formally acknowledged. In my judgment, our land is filled with churches that precisely conform to this wretched pattern.
Here was a church that supposed it was in a safe and secure position. They imagined that beginning the race was all there was to it. Here was some of the original "once saved, always saved" people. They had started the race, and had been placed on the proper foundation. Every advantage had been given to them that is given to every person that is born again. It could be said of them as it was said of Israel, "My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. And He dug it all around, removed its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it, And hewed out a wine vat in it; Then He expected it to produce good grapes, But it produced only worthless ones. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge between Me and My vineyard. What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?" (Isa 5:1-4, NASB).
Let it be clear, there is no reason for a lukewarm and indifferent state. There is absolutely nothing about salvation that contributes to such a condition. Everything about life in Christ Jesus discourages indifference and indecision. Wherever a state like that of Laodicea is found, the Spirit has been quenched, the truth has been stifled, and the flesh is dominant. That is why Jesus is completely intolerant of the condition. It is evidence that a place has been made for the devil (Eph 4:27), the flesh has not been crucified (Gal 5:24, and the heart has concentrated on things that are seen (2 Cor 4:17-18). The affection has NOT been placed on things above (Col 3:1-2), people are NOT living by faith (Heb 10:38), and the Word of God has been "choked" (Matt 13:22). We are speaking of a most serious spiritual malady--one that is altogether too common in our day.
Laodicea viewed themselves from the fleshly, or carnal, point of view. Christ views them as they really are. How different is His evaluation--and it is really the only valid one. "You do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked . . . " Think of the gravity of this word! This is Jesus' view of one of His churches. Concerning their condition, they were "WRETCHED," like a filthy and fatigued abject slave. Concerning their actual state, they were "MISERABLE," most deplorable, and to be pitied by everyone who saw them. Regarding the spiritual state they were "POOR," bereft of spiritual graces, without holiness, and ready to die. From the standpoint of their spiritual perception, they were "BLIND," the eyes of their understanding being darkened so they could not see the real things of God and Christ. Looking at them from the viewpoint of standing before the Lord, they were "NAKED," stripped of the covering of mercy and grace.
When they came into Christ, they were raised up with Him to sit in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6). They were made "kings and priests unto God" (Rev 1:5-6). But now they had degenerated into a state of wretchedness! They once had access to all the "treasures of wisdom and knowledge" in Christ Jesus (Col 2:3), having been elevated to "the sons of God" (1 John 3:1-2). But now they had plummeted downward to a state of miserableness! Once their eyes had been opened to the glories of God and His salvation (Eph 1:18- 20; Heb 10:32). But now they had reverted to a state of spiritual blindness! Once they had been made rich in Jesus, with "all things" belonging to them (1 Cor 3:20-23). But now they were again blinded to the things of God, unable to see what was once opened to them! Once they had been clothed with "the garments of salvation" (Isa 61:10, having "put on Christ" (Gal 3:27). But now they fallen into a state of moral and spiritual nakedness, with nothing to cover them from the wrath of God!
It is difficult to conceive of the condition of a church being any worse. Here are FIVE CONTEMPTIBLE CONDITIONS, ascribed to a boasting and self-confident church! Forever blot from your mind the vain notion that once you are in Christ Jesus you are locked into a state of acceptance! This was a real church, with one of Christ's messengers. It was numbered among those in whose presence Jesus Himself dwelt. But they had become absorbed with the ways of the world, and had suffered remarkable loss. They lost their glory, becoming WRETCHED. They lost the privileges of sonship, becoming MISERABLE. No longer were they beholding the invisible God or the things of the Kingdom, but were BLIND. The incalculable riches had been willingly forfeited in preference of other things, and thus they had become POOR. Although they had been clothed with the righteousness of Christ, they had cast it aside to become meshed with the world, and now stood NAKED before the Judge of all the earth. What a dreadful condition!
THE ADVICE OF JESUS
"I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see" (NASB). Although the church in Laodicea was in a most serious condition, it was not beyond hope! The Savior from sin is also the Deliverer from setbacks! The same faith that saves the soul will also restore it. As the King, Jesus has the authority and resources to recover any fallen church who correctly sees its condition and will respond to His overtures. What a Gospel we have to preach! Care must be taken by every preacher and teacher to hold out the remedy for sinful setbacks. While sin is to be vigorously opposed, and righteous judgments made, grace and mercy are to be extended for recovery. This is the manner of the Savior.
Buy From Me!
Just as it costs something to degenerate, so it costs something to recover. Some people imagine that nothing about salvation requires something from us. How wrong they are! Here is the Son of God, with a firm grasp on every aspect of the Kingdom, advising His people to "BUY" from Him! They sorely need what He has, but they will have to purchase it! It will require a personal investment and commitment to obtain what they need. Some theology would have Jesus saying, There is nothing you can pay for this, just open your heart and I will give it to you. But that is not what Jesus says, and it must not be what we say! When we face those in spiritual decline, we must apprize them that recovery will cost them something.
This word "buy" is used several times in Scripture. It is used in reference to the foolish virgins who went to "buy" oil (Matt 25:9-10). The book of Revelation also speaks of a time when those refusing the "mark of the beast" will be unable to "buy" (Rev 13:17). Peter refers to false prophets who deny the Lord who "bought" them (2 Pet 2:1). Joseph of Arimathaea invested his personal resources to "buy" fine linen in which to wrap the crucified Christ (Mark 15:46). In every case, a personal investment was required. Be sure, the purchase, from one point of view, will be made "without money" (Isa 55:1), but it will require giving up something--withdrawing from your resources. Solomon once said, "Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding" (Prov 23:23). It is absurd to think you could procure eternal treasure and benefits without any personal investment! Those who seek an easy way to glory--one which costs them nothing--will find no cause to follow Jesus!
One other thing to see here: the purchase can only be made from Jesus. Resources required for spiritual recovery are not obtainable anywhere else. The wisdom of this world cannot provide what believers sorely need! It cannot be found in pleasure, analysis, history, or scholarship! God condemned Israel for going down to Egypt for help. His words to them on this matter are blistering. "Woe to the rebellious children, saith the LORD, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin: That walk to go down into Egypt, and have not asked at my mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt!" (Isa 30:1-2). What must be said of those who seek to obtain spiritual advantages from the course and fashion of this world? They must forsake such vain pursuits and "buy" directly from the Lord Jesus!
The backslidden, fallen, and those in the grip of the "sleep of death" (Psalm 13:3), must come to Jesus to buy what they need! Saints can assist them, but the goods must be received from Christ Himself! Jesus does not tell the church to go to the other churches and find resources, but to "buy" them from Him! His language is precise, and in strict keeping with the nature of the Kingdom. If it does not blend with the theology you have adopted, then you must abandon your theology in preference for the words of Christ your King!
Become Truly Rich!
"I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich . . . " Earthly riches do not bring spiritual advantage! It makes little difference how loud charlatans may shout on this point, riches "are corrupted" (James 5:2), i.e., they are destined to pass away--to "perish" (1 Pet 1:7). If we doubt this, Solomon will confirm this to be the case. Having possessed riches in abundance, by the blessing of God, he said "Riches profit not in the day of wrath" (Prov 11:4), "Labor not to be rich" (Prov 23:4), "For riches are not for ever" (Prov 27:24), and "He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity" (Eccl 5:10). Whatever may be said of earthly riches, they are not to be the focus of our attention. Of themselves, they bring no eternal advantage. It is ONLY as they are approached as a stewardship from God that they can become a source of blessing. Laodicea was a rich city, and the church there had been deluded into thinking they too had become rich, having need of nothing. However, as they sat in their wealth, heaven saw them as wretched and poor!
Jesus has gold that has passed the test of Divine judgment. It has been "tried in the fire." Preeminently, this is faith. As it is written, "These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Pet 1:7, NIV). The worth of a person, or a church, is measured by its faith. Little faith, little value. Much faith, much wealth and worth! Such richness is available from Jesus! Such faith is not distributed upon the basis of worldly possessions, and those who receive it may not receive much in this world--yet they will be "rich." James, the brother of our Lord, affirmed a great Kingdom principle, or law, not often declared by religious opportunists. "Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love him?" (James 2:5). Those who are "poor in the eyes of the world" are not merely those who have no riches. It includes those who do not place a preeminent worth upon them--who do not set their minds on amassing the wealth of this world. Such insightful souls place a higher worth on riches that will transfer to the next world.
Those who "buy" this refined gold from Jesus must relinquish a corrupted sense of values. They are asked to "deny" themselves in preference of the glory of their Lord. To be rich before God, they must abandon the pursuit of temporal things, and "seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matt 6:33). The riches of this world disappear when the Lord but blows upon them (Isa 40:24). The true riches stand the test of Divine scrutiny, and constitute one "rich" in the eyes of the Lord. What a contrast we have here. The church in Smyrna was poor in this world, yet "rich" in God's eyes (2:9). The church in Laodicea was rich in this world, yet "poor" in Christ's eyes! The reason for this condition--they had NOT been receiving from Jesus!
Be Fully Clothed!
"I counsel thee to buy of me . . . white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed . . . " Although this church declared it was "rich and increased in goods," it stood "naked" before the Lord, like the guilty pair in Eden! It was not covered in the righteousness of Christ, but only held earthly distinction. Now Jesus counsels them to "buy" "white raiment" from Him so they can really be clothed. You will recall that God, before expelling Adam Eve from the Garden, made "coats of skins and clothed them" (Gen 3:21). Only then were they thrust out into the world, to live in preparation for the final confrontation. Those who imagine that Jesus does not care what we wear must consider this. God looks intently upon the attire, or lack thereof, of our souls. He looks for the "garments of salvation" and the "robe of righteousness" (Isa 61:10). That alone can cover the nakedness of the soul!
The church in Laodicea had started their pilgrimage by "putting on Christ," as do all believers (Gal 3:27). But somewhere along the way, they put Him off, choosing "all that is in the world" (1 John 2:15-17). They discarded the "robe of righteousness" and the clothing of "humility" for the "cloak of covetousness" (Isa 61:10; 1 Thess 2:5; 1 Pet 5:5). Now they must "buy" what they had once received, but had since abandoned. They would have to discard their present coverings to again obtain the "garments of salvation." They would have to pay a price--to lose something they presently considered valuable--to obtain this required clothing.
Scripture makes clear that this "white raiment" refers to the holiness of the saints. "And to her (the church) was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints" (Rev 19:8). Jesus promises such clothing to all who overcome (Rev 3:6). How is it, then, that He counsels the church in Laodicea to "buy" it now? Because salvation begins now--in this world. If we do not appropriate the righteousness of God by faith here, we will not enjoy the fulness of it there! Jesus referred to this principle when He said, "And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints" (Matt 5:6). Participation in the righteousness of God begins here; it will be consummated there.
Let it be clear, those who become defiled after they were once cleansed and made righteous, must "buy" "white raiment" from Jesus. They must again come to Christ, acknowledging their departure from Him, and give what they have to be clean in His sight. Surely you know, "Nothing impure will ever enter it (the glorified church), nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Rev 21:27). Too, if a longing for purity is not realized in this world, the reality of it will not be experienced in "the world to come."
Many a congregation today is in the position of the church in Laodicea, yet has no messenger to sound the alarm. They stand naked before the Lord, covered only with moral fig leaves of their own making. Like Joshua the high priest, they stand before the Almighty arrayed in "filthy garments" (Zech 3:3). Because Joshua chose to stand before the Lord, instead of glorying in himself, he experienced a change of raiment. The "filthy garments" were taken away, and he was given a "change of raiment." This is what Jesus wants for all who wear His name--but they must stand before Him, to "buy" from Him "white raiment" that will stand the test of Divine scrutiny.
A quest for righteousness is not common in the Western churches. This is not a good condition. The absence of a hunger and thirst for righteousness contradicts any profession of association with Christ Jesus. It betrays a condition Jesus calls "naked," and must be remedied this side of our departure from this world. Again, I emphasize that this righteousness is procured only from Christ. The Apostle Paul expressed his driving compulsion to be clothed in righteousness in Philippians 3:8-11. "Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead." This is the activity to which Jesus is calling the church in Laodicea.
Recover Your Sight
"I counsel thee to buy of me . . . and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see." Spiritual blindness is never justified! To be in a condition where the things of God cannot be seen where there is a lack of "spiritual understanding" is most serious. Jesus declared this church to be "blind" a state from which they had once been recovered. Their condition was the result of backward movement, as depicted most vividly by Peter. "But he that lacketh these things [virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly affection, and love] is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins" (2 Pet 1:9). The idea is that of blindness to what is right before us, and the inability to see what is ahead. This is a two-fold condition created by neglect and absorption with the ways of the world. More specifically, this condition is brought on by forgetting the purging "of his old sins." That is what had happened in Laodicea. Even though Jesus instituted a feast of remembrance to ensure this did not happen, still Laodicea had forgotten. As a result, blindness set upon their soul.
This church must come to Jesus and "buy" salve for their eyes a spiritual commodity that will remedy their blinded condition. To be sure, they will not pursue things they cannot see! During His earthly ministry, Jesus once "anointed" a blind man's eyes "with clay," telling him to go and wash that he might see (John 9:6-7). But there was a difference in that case the man "was born blind" (John 9:2). This was not the case, however, with the Laodiceans. They were reborn seeing, not in a state of blindness. However, they had lost their vision, and required spiritual "eyesalve" to correct their condition "eyesalve" that could only be bought from Jesus. A blind church is tottering on the brink of eternal ruin. If they do not recover their vision, there is no hope for them.
I cannot help but observe the circumstances of our time. Spiritual blindness hangs like a dark cloud over the churches of our land. When it comes to the things of the Kingdom, there is far too much groping. I hear too many sermons, lectures, and discussions that are like blind men groping in the dark. They are unable to handle eternal things, and flounder in the sea of Scripture in a state of disorientation. They have lost their bearings because they are "blind, and cannot see afar off." Dulness and obtuseness concerning the things of God are inexcusable, especially among those professing to be teachers. Jesus called such teachers "blind guides" (Matt 23:16,24). Paul; said of them, "desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm" (1 Tim 1:7). We are living in the midst of a great departure from the faith. The purported "great moves" of God that are occurring nearly all have to do with elementary advances in the Kingdom. They are not characterized by "seeing," or strong spiritual vision. This is a time for buying "eyesalve" from the Lord Jesus! Let it be clear, we do not despise these "small beginnings," counting them a token of hope. However, the darkness of the times makes it easy to overstate their greatness.
What is this "eyesalve?" What is the secret to restored vision? It is certainly not in a disciplined procedure, or a special way of studying the Bible. This is nothing less than the illumination of the Holy Spirit. In a marvelous depiction of the advantages given us in Christ Jesus, the writer of Revelation elsewhere said, "But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things . . . But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him" (1 John 2:20,27). Here is the heavenly Illuminator, Who pulls back veil that nature has hung over "all things." The Holy Spirit is the One Who "enlightens the eyes of our understanding" (Eph 1:18), bringing spiritual perspective. We began our walk with Christ by being "enlightened" (Heb 6:4) or "illuminated" (Heb 10:32), and we maintain our walk in the same way.
Without this enlightenment, the world will dominate us, for we have no other way of perceiving the things of God. They are too high for nature to grasp even refined and educated nature. They extend beyond the reach of the "natural man" (1 Cor 2:14), and are antithetical to the "carnal mind" (Rom 8:7-8). Those unduly enamored of academic pursuits tend to ignore this truth. That is because academics, with all of their lower advantages, are closer to the earth than they are to heaven. They are too easily entered by those who are themselves alienated from God. For this reason, great care must be taken by the saints when in that realm. Like the Laodicea church was corrupted by the society in which it resided, so are many today adversely influenced by lower intellectual climes that tend to vaunt flesh and minimize Divine influences. The marked tendency to think like the world is lethal. The soul must break through the darkness into the light, else it will be thrust away from Christ.
THOSE JESUS LOVES
"Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline (chasten, KJV); be zealous therefore, and repent" (NASB). Jesus severely rebukes this church, but loves it still! He is not seeking to drive it away, but promote its recovery. Not a single believer or church will escape chastening! Thus it is written, "But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons" (Heb 12:8). Chastening, or spiritual reprimanding, is an appointed means of conforming us to the image of Christ Jesus. Although our earthly fathers chastened and corrected us as it seemed best to them, the Lord does it "for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness" (Heb 12:10). There is a Divine objective being served that is most marvelous: "for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness." The real benefit does not occur while the discipline is being administered, but after it has taken effect. As it is written, "Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Heb 12:11).
As of this year, I have preached the Gospel for 47 years. During that time, I can recall very few occasions when a church acknowledged it perceived the chastening hand of Christ in its difficulties. In the circles in which I have traveled, there is such a low awareness of the Son of God that it is startling to the soul. It is as though the church in Laodicea has been fully restored in its corrupted state. Still, even under those circumstances, I have witnessed sensitive souls who detected the hand of the Lord moving among them because of His great love. While I do not mean to harp on this point, it is most grievous to me that in the name of the Lord, people have been deprived of spiritual sensitivity robbed, as it were, of a perception of Christ's appeals to them.
The required reaction to Christ's appeals: "Be zealous therefore, and repent!" This is the only place in the Bible where zeal and repentance are joined together. It indicates the level of difficulty associated with recovery from lukewarmness. When indifference grips the soul, and the spirit of compromise fastens on it like a leech, it requires unusual strength and determination to recover. O, that the churches were more aware of this. Deborah rebuked the Reubenites for their indifference. They sat in their sheepfolds when a summons to war had been issued (Judges 5:16). In Nehemiah's day, the Tekoites engaged in repairing the walls, but "did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord" (Neh 3:5). Jeremiah spoke of those who were "not valiant for the truth" (Jer 9:3), and Ezekiel confronted those who had not "gone up into the gaps to build a wall for the house of Israel to stand in battle on the day of the LORD" (Ezek 13:5). Hosea chided Israel for being like a "morning cloud, And like the early dew it goes away," and whose heart was "divided" (Hos 6:4; 10:2). Who can forget the words of Haggai who upbraided the people of God, declaring God had heard their foolish reasoning. "The time has not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built" (Hag 1:2- 6). If you are familiar with those texts, you know the extreme difficulty associated with recovering from that state.
Those who are "lukewarm" must marshal all of their resources and repent! They must come away from distractions, and quit their vain and feeble efforts to do something for God. The work of the Lord will never be accomplished while in a state of practical alienation from Him. A fire goes before the Lord, "and burns up His enemies round about" (Psa97:3). Zeal is like a fire that goes before us, burning up counterproductive influences. Repentance does not come easily for those who are indifferent and compromising. Indeed, it is difficult enough to repent while surrounded by heavenly influences, words of exhortation, and a convicted conscience. It is well nigh impossible for those who sleep as though there were no danger. Like Samson, such must arise and "shake" themselves, bringing every sensitivity to its full potential. Repentance involves casting "off the works of darkness," and putting "on the armor of light" (Rom 13:14). It also requires throwing down "imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor 10:5). Such repentance cannot be put off until a "more convenient season" (Acts 24:25). The soul must break through the darkness into light, else it will be thrust away form Christ.
THE GRACIOUS INVITATION
Given the condition of this church, one might imagine strong appeals would NOT be made to anyone in their number. But this is not at all the case. Although Jesus had been excluded from His own church, He eagerly seeks a receptive soul. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me" (NASB). Now He does not speak to the church itself. Rather He sends a lofty appeal among them, searching for "anyone" still possessing sensitivity in that quagmire of lukewarmness. Can it be that one exists in such a suppressive environment? Do not venture a carnal assessment of the situation! Here, we learn something of the nature of Jesus, as well as the existence of spiritual tenderness in most unlikely places. Do not be quick to give up on the most loathsome environment!
See, Jesus does not tear the door down in a climactic act of Divine wrath! Such a deed would have slain everyone on the other side. The day of wrath has not yet come, so the Son of God will make strong appeals. B ut He will do so on the OUTSIDE not on the inside. Mark it well, the religion of the Laodiceans had put a door between them and Jesus. Whatever kind of religious activity was found among them, it proved a barrier to the Divine Presence. I know of people who imagine such a condition to be impossible. Yet, all through this country there are assemblies that regularly meet with their door closed to Jesus. The early disciples met behind closed doors for "fear of the Jews." On that occasion, the resurrected Jesus appeared in their midst, even though the doors were locked fast (John 20:19). But the church in Laodicea was not afforded this blessing. Their Lord, Who had bought them with His own blood, stood "at the door" and knocked, bidding entrance NOT to their insipid gathering, but to any individual who had managed to survive their tepidness.
He does not call out to the leaders not to the elders, or deacons, or men, or ladies. His call is not to a group. Above the din of carnality in that assembly, and over the lull of death that had settled upon them, the voice of the Son of God could be heard. The soul in whose heart the truth had found a resting place could hear it. It was one of those "whosoever will" calls that is lofty, yet can be heard by tender hearts. "If ANYONE hears my voice," cries the Lord on the outside of the door. No stilted theology here about men no longer hearing Jesus! He is still speaking (Heb 12:25), and people can still hear Him within the recesses of the heart (Eph 4:21). It makes no difference how dead and lifeless an assembly may be, if there is a sensitive soul there, Jesus stands at the door and knocks, calling out to those with an "ear to hear." That voice can be heard in a text of Scripture, though read in a lifeless liturgy, or declared by an apathetic speaker. It can be heard in a prayer that is read in routine, or a song that is sung without the heart but it will be heard by the searching soul. "I stand at the door and knock," cries Jesus! It is an aggressive knock! It is a persistent knock!
Listen! Can you hear it? It is accompanied by a word a directed word: "If any one hears My voice and opens the door!" The qualification is twofold: hearing and opening! Those are things you can do if you have an ear to hear. It is as though Jesus said, If any one is sensitive to my presence and will avail himself of it. If anyone is aware of Me, and will extend himself to receive Me! And what will Jesus do for such a person? Whether anyone else opens the door, welcoming the Presence of Jesus, or not, the receptive individual will experience fellowship and communion with Christ. "I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me!" That is the same promise Jesus gave to His disciples on the eve of His betrayal (John 14:21,23). The soul that desires Christ will experience Him! He will be taught by the Master and cared for by the Good Shepherd. Jesus will prepare a special spiritual diet for that person, and "dine with him." It will be a reciprocal fellowship, providing release for the soul as well as nourishment for it: "and he [will dine] with Me."
There is a tone of urgency in these words. These are not words to be casually pondered. They demand an immediate response. Toward the close of Christ's earthly ministry, He also spoke of opening the door to Him. In that instance, His reference was to His second coming. His words are arresting. "Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately" (Luke 12:35-36). Christ's message to Laodicea will, if heeded, prepare them for that coming. If men will open the door to Jesus now, freely giving Him entrance into their conscious lives, they will be able to joyfully open the door to Him IMMEDIATELY when He comes for His own.
On an intensely personal level, the soul that hears the Voice and opens the door, will experience what the disciples did following Christ's resurrection. Like many in the churches, those disciples had been trying to catch something for a long time, only to have empty nets. For some time they toiled in futility, like many church members do. But when Jesus came and "stood" on the shore, the circumstance changed. Do you remember the incident? He asked them if they had caught anything: "Children, have you any food?" Forlornly, they answered, "No!" They had heard His voice, now He gives them an opportunity to "open the door." "Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some." Instantly, opening the door, they cast their nets, and were unable to draw it in because of the multitude of the fish! When finally they all got back to shore, it is written, "Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread." Jesus was going to dine with them! In tender love, He had prepared a special meal for them! Hallelujah! But that is not all. "Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish which you have just caught." They would feed on what He had prepared, and He would eat what they had caught. Although 153 large fish was in their net, the net was not broken. Then Jesus said, "COME AND DINE!" (John 21:5-12).
This is what Jesus was calling from outside the Laodicean church! "COME AND DINE!" He wanted to dine with someone to share with them what He had procured for them! He also wanted them to share with Him the good things they had caught at His direction. He did not call out for a congregation, but for an individual "anyone!" O, what a marvelous picture of Jesus and He is calling still! How sweet the fellowship of Jesus, into which we have been called and into which He still calls us (1 Cor 1:9). There are more profound insights than you have yet seen, more nourishing delights for the soul than you have yet tasted! There is more joy and peace than you have yet apprehended, and greater strength and grace than you have yet grasped. It may be that you are in an assembly like that of Laodicea I hope not. But if you are, whatever handicaps may be there, it cannot still the voice of Jesus, or stop you from opening the door to Him!
THE STAGGERING PROMISE
As you might expect, one of the greatest promises is given to one of the most unworthy assemblies. Jesus does not give it to the assembly as such, but to anyone within that assembly or the world that has an "ear to hear." There is no reason why it cannot be the entire assembly, but Jesus will not hold back the benefit because of a small number! If you are waiting for the rest of the people to join you, wait no longer. Take hold of the promise yourself! "He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne" (NASB).
See with what consistency Jesus speaks: "He who overcomes!" He has thus spoken to all seven churches (2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21), and He will again speak to them collectively in this manner (21:7). Overcoming is everything! It is the line of demarcation between the utterance of the promises and obtaining them! It is the acid-test of worthiness, the ultimate work of faith, and the final evidence of an "honest and good heart." If we do not overcome, it makes no difference what else we may or may not have done.
And what kind of promise will Jesus make to this lukewarm assembly? How will He draw them into the area of blessing? To those who have vacillated, lingering between two opinions those who have been unassertive in their profession, being neither hot nor cold Jesus delivers a promise of staggering proportions. It is designed to awaken them to an aggressive and valiant fight of faith. Hear is again. "He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne" (RSV).
This is being a "joint heir with Christ" and "reigning with Christ" (Rom 8:17; 2 Tim 2:12). This transcends anything ever conceived by men. Once, the mother of James and John requested that her sons be seated, "one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom" (Matt 20:21, NKJV). Although the highest honor she could conceive, Jesus replied, "to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father" (Matt 20:23), thereby discouraging any such request. Jesus did promise the Apostles, "Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt 19:28). Although that is a astonishing promise, Jesus rises still higher in His commitment to the one who overcomes. Up to this time, the reigning of the saints of God has generally been related to the judgment itself i.e., judging men and angels (1 Cor 6:21-2), judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt 19:28), enemies falling at our feet to acknowledge Jesus loved us (Rev 3:9), and having "power over the nations" (Rev 2:26-27). Here, however, we project out into eternity a reign of endless duration.
Now, Jesus is sitting with the Father in His throne mediating the New Covenant, "bringing many sons to glory," and waiting until His enemies "be made His footstool" (Heb 9:15; 2:10; 10:13). That throne is not shared by the redeemed. Having "destroyed" the devil (Heb 2:14), "spoiled principalities and powers" (Col 2:15), "put away sin" (Heb 9:28), and shattered the gates of death (Acts 2:24-27), Jesus returned to heaven to sit in His Father's throne. From that station He is governing the affairs of this world in the interest of His elect. He is doing so because He "overcame" everything and everyone that sought to deter Him from His mission. All competing interests were subdued, and all enemies crushed. Now He dispenses "mercy and grace to help in the time of need" (Heb 4:15-16) to those making the pilgrimage from earth to glory.
A time is coming, however, when the Lord Jesus will have His own throne when His enemies shall have been publically subdued. Here, we are on most holy ground, and must walk with caution, not allowing flesh to intrude with fanciful explanations. The Spirit pulls the curtain back, giving us a glimpse of this time, in the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians. "Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For He has put all things under His feet. But when He says all things are put under Him, it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all" (verses 24-28). We dare not venture opinions on this text, but receive it as it stands. Jesus will transfer the Kingdom back to God the very God Who gave it to Him. When He returns it, it shall have been perfected, cleansed from all defilement, and readied for eternal responsibilities. "All things in heaven and in earth" will have been united together as God determined (Eph 1:9-11).
The Lord Jesus Himself "will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him." His subjection will not be like that of a slave that is not the intent of these words. The idea is that He will be identified with the redeemed, and together with them shall carry out the will of God. There is a purpose on the trestle board of eternity, that has not yet been fully divulged. There will be glorious enterprises in which the redeemed will participate. Here and there we receive a hint of them. "To Him (God) be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever (world without end, KJV). Amen" (Eph 3:21). " But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:7). Who can forget some of the provocative promises regarding these things: "Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities. . . . You also be over five cities" (Luke 19:17-19). "Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your :Lord" (Matt 25:21)
There has been far too much minuscule thinking about "the world to come," and the role of the redeemed in it. Our hearts and minds can be enlarged concerning these things. Here is a promise that will contribute to that enlargement. The Lord Jesus will share His throne with the redeemed of all ages. He will lead them forth in endeavors that require all of their ransomed powers, and for which they will be fully equal. Here, I will rest my case, although there is much more that could be said. I encourage you to contemplate the greatness your salvation and the exceeding great reward that awaits you.
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (NASB). As marvelous as these promises are, they are of no avail if people do not listen to them and think upon them. The Word becomes effective as it resides within our hearts and minds. Our meditations will draw out its richness, for in them the Spirit effectively works within us. Too, the solemn warnings given to the churches particularly the one to Laodicea are to be taken most seriously. Men have learned to live with lukewarm churches, but Jesus has not! Lifelessness, indifference, and compromise are all abominable to Him, and He will not long tolerate them. What is more, He will not stay where He is not wanted!
The church, both collectively and individually, needs Christ within. His Presence is NOT to be taken for granted, but fervently sought and maintained with zeal. Without the indwelling Christ (Eph 3:15-17), teaching, services, songs, and all forms of godliness are vain, pointless, and incapable of bring us the victory. Hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches! If we keep Jesus out of our hearts, He will spew us out of His mouth! If we overcome, we will sit with Him in His throne, engaging in an eternal reign with Him.