“And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; 15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. 17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. 18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye salve, that thou mayest see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. 21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. 22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Rev. 3:14-22).
The Church of the Laodiceans has the unfortunate distinction of being the only Church addressed without a word of commendation. There is sternness in the tone of the letter that borders on the extreme, and yet is really the product of love. The letter begins with three statements that identify the Lord Jesus. He is declared to be the “Amen.” Two thoughts come to mind.
First, in Isaiah 65:16 in the original, God is called the God of truth, or “the God of Amen.” Amen is that special word which is put at the end of a solemn statement for the expressed purpose of affirming its truthfulness. To call Jesus the Amen, is to affirm that He is to be believed.
Second, often in John’s gospel we read how Jesus began a statement saying, “Truly, truly, I say unto you” (John 1:51; 3:3, 5, 11). The Greek for truly is Amen. Here then is a reference to the promises of Christ. And His promises can be relied upon. Jesus is also declared to be the faithful and true witness. In order to be such a witness there are three essential conditions that must be met.
A witness must have seen, with his own eyes, that of which he speaks. He must be absolutely honest, so that he may repeat with accuracy what he has heard, and seen. He must have the persuasive ability to make an impression to those He speaks to. Jesus Christ met the entire criterion.
The third truth declared about Jesus is that He is the beginning of the creation of God. The Mormons, the Jehovah Witnesses, and others, take this verse, along with several more passages, and deny the deity of Christ. One passage often used to diminish the divinity of Christ is found in Colossians. “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature” (Col. 1:15).
The problem is that in the English the phrase is ambiguous. It could mean one of two things. The phrase could mean that Jesus was the first Person to be created. If that is true, then He is obviously not God. The phrase could mean that He is preeminent, and began the creation process. There is no doubt that it was the intention of John to identify all of creation as having its origin in Christ. “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3).
To insist on the Lord’s part in creation, for John, was to refute the heretics who explained sin, and death, and disease, as being the creation of a false, and lesser god. The Christian view is that the God of creation is also the God of redemption. Once again Jesus Christ declares that He knows the works of the professing church. It is His calculated conclusion that the professing saints are neither hot nor cold, but barely warm.
To the Laodiceans this was a picture of crude vividness, because they understood all too well the nauseating quality of a liquid that was tepid. As a city, Laodicea had a water supply problem. Because of its location, the city was dependent upon an underwater aqueduct from springs about six miles away.
But there was a problem with the water supply. It was neither hot nor cold, but tepid, and it made people sick to drink it without the water being treated. The Lord’s controversy with His people was that as they now existed, they were making Him sick because they were neither hot nor cold. They were indifferent, and it is this indifference that makes the Lord sick. Indifferent people do not change society. Indifferent people do not change anyone. So serious is the Lord about this matter of indifference that He makes an amazing announcement, which in effects says this: “I have more respect for the hardened unbeliever than I have for the professing believer who is lukewarm.”
There are several factors leading to the spiritual status of indifference. When there is material prosperity, the Church begins to become lukewarm. Over and over again the Bible warns of the danger of riches. Even the desire to be rich can lead people into sin.
“For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. 9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 11 But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness” (1 Tim. 6:6-11
A shift in one’s thinking leads to lukewarmness. “Thou knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” When spiritual discernment goes, lukewarmness comes in.
Having identified the problem, and explained how the Church got into such a terrible condition, the Lord offers divine counsel. The Church is invited to buy gold tried in the fire so that the people might be truly rich spiritually. The gold tried in the fire may refer to faith. “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7). Spiritually, to buy gold, is to ask God for more spiritual things.
The spiritual heart desires more Bible truth. There are many words, and concepts, that should be familiar to the Christian, such as: the deity of Christ, sin, translation, trinity, salvation, angels, Holy Spirit, sanctification, predestination, God the Father, inspiration, election, prayer, revelation, justification, baptism, and the Great Commission.
The spiritual heart longs for more spiritual experiences with God. It is spiritual gold to have Bible truth stored in the soul, and to have rich spiritual experiences of communion with Christ.
If we parents take pity upon our children whom we correct harshly, God will have pity upon those who are His children, and who repent of their sins. God will give spiritual capital that we need if we want faith to know Him, faith to love Him, and faith to serve Him.
It is natural to want to give counsel to other people. The resurrected Lord comes to the Church, and offers counsel that is certainly good, and wise, even though it was unsolicited.
The motive for giving unsolicited counsel on the Lord’s part is one of love. “As many as I love, I rebuke,” says Christ (Rev. 3:19). The love of Christ compels Him to say something, and thus we know that a facet of biblical love is to have the best interest of someone else at heart. “I love you,” says Christ. “I must counsel you.”
The counsel of the Lord consists of five directives. First, the living Lord counsels the Church to buy gold tried in the fire. From the apostle Peter we learn that gold tried in the fire has reference to the sphere of faith being tested by suffering. Through much tribulation the saints will be tested. That is why the tongue of the slanderer lashes out. That is why Christians are the objects of hatred, and rumors, and evil reports. Those who will reign with Christ must suffer with Him.
Second, the Living Lord counsels the Church to buy of Him white raiment, or clothing, that the saints might be clothed, and that the shame of nakedness might be covered. The reference to the purchase of white clothing is significant. The Laodiceans were very proud of the white robes they wore in public. The clothing from Laodicea was famous all over the known world. The Lord draws from this a spiritual lesson.
The spiritual robe of righteousness is more important than the luxury articles being worn. It was a shame to Christ for the Church to be without spiritual garments, despite their display of wealth. Christ would have His people clothed in righteousness.
The world watches, and wonders, at professing Christians caught in spiritual nakedness. God’s threat to His people by the prophet Nahum was specific. “Behold, I am against thee, saith the Lord of hosts; and I will discover thy skirts upon thy face, and I will shew the nations thy nakedness, and the kingdoms thy shame” (Nahum 3:5). God will let the world look upon the nakedness of the Church unless there is a clothing of righteousness put on.
The third counsel of the Lord is that the churches anoint their eyes with eye-salve that they may be able to see. An eye salve is simply a solution to help the eyes stop burning, or watering, or itching. We have solutions to help the eyes today, and they existed in the ancient world as well. But the eye-salve of old hurt when applied, which meant that the people were hesitant to use it. Spiritually, the Laodiceans were hesitant to use the eye-salve. It hurt too much. They did not want to see themselves as they really were. This is understandable. It does take a lot of grace to stand and say to self and to others, “I am a sinful person. I am a lustful man. I am a proud woman. I am a liar.” It took a long time for the apostle Paul to say, “I was covetous” (Rom. 7:7-9).
John and James would have to confess they were angry and ambitious men. Still, the beginning of hope is to see one’s self as one really is. “I want you to see,” says Jesus. “I want you to anoint thine eyes with eye-salve.” Spiritually, this means to apply the Word of God, for it alone helps us to see ourselves not only as we are, but also as we might be. As we look into the perfect law of liberty, we see.
There is a fourth line of counseling the Lord gives, and that is “to be zealous.” This speaks of intensity of the soul more than it does physical activity. Most of life is really lived in the mind. The Christian is commanded to redeem the time. He is to pray without ceasing, and to seek first the kingdom of God.
Finally, the Lord counsels the Church to repent. To repent means to admit the charges are true. To repent means to turn from sin. To repent means to plot a course of conduct that will be different. A Church that is rich may want to consider giving away a large portion of its goods to help others. A Church that is proud of its fine clothing may want to clean out the closets and clothe the naked. A Church that is lukewarm in worship may want to consider being put in the company of the committed. A Church that is not spiritually mature may want to find teaching, and material that will help it to grow spiritually. To focus attention on the personal responsibility of the saints, the words of Revelation 3:20 are offered. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20).
Observe from this passage that this message is given to the Church, not the world. It is given for the purpose of sanctification. Christ is pleading with His people. He stands at the door of the human heart, and He knocks in condescending love. The Lord takes the initiative in seeking to fellowship with man.
In the twelfth century AD, Saint Bernard lived. He would tell his monks that “However early they might awake and rise for prayer in their chapels on a cold mid-winter morning, or even in the dead of night, they would always find God awake before them, waiting for them—nay it was He who had awakened them to seek His face.”
The word “sup” is a very special word. It is the third meal of the day (depnon), the one people lingered over after a day’s work was done. To all who will listen to the counsel of Christ, the wonderful promise is made to sit with the Lord in His throne. It is easier to understand this verse when it is realized that the eastern throne was more like a couch than a chair. To sit with Christ is to share His victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil. “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Rev. 13:9).