For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
The Lord's message to Laodicea is a loving complaint to a church that once walked with its Lord, but now has went away from him.
I would like to share a word regarding the last letter that the Lord sent to his churches, the message to Laodicea, found in Revelation 3:14-22.
Philadelphia (which we won't speak of today) is identified as a faithful church, of which there was no complaint. Laodicea, on the other hand, is related as the apostate church. Apostasy has to do with distorting, the forging the real, while not conforming to God's pattern. It is a church that is unable to discern or express the desire of God's heart and will in the present day.
Contrary to all the other churches, Laodicea didn't receive any recognition. Perhaps for this reason, the Lord's words were more tender and wonderful than those spoken to the other churches; they were words of understanding and sweetness.
Laodicea was an arrogant and self-sufficient church. It was the most affluent city of the seven in Asia. It was known for its industrial banking, its production of beautiful wool garments, and for the medical school that produced medication for the eyes (eye salve). Some believers mistakenly supposed that the abundance of material goods was an indication of God's spiritual blessing (a doctrine of prosperity). Laodicea was a rich city and so was its church. What the church could see and buy became more valuable to them than the unseen and eternal; that which is truly important for God.
Paul Fought in Prayer For It
Very little is known of this church, but from what the Scriptures mention of it, we can salvage some information. In Colossians 2:1-3 we see the apostle sustained a great fight for the brothers and sisters of Laodicea, so they would have the full riches of complete understanding, "in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ." The apostle's desire was that they would have true riches, knowing - without a doubt -that they already possessed much earthly wealth.
Despite having revelation about some aspects of the person and work of Jesus Christ, we too could confuse true wealth with mere intellectual knowledge of God's Word. At the same time, however, having such knowledge could prevent us from truly reaching the full riches of complete understanding, and we would thus remain sterile. We could say, "In Christ we have everything" and not manifest the characteristics and life of Christ.
The church of Laodicea was well-known by the apostle (Colossians 4:12-13, 15, 16). It was very dear to him, for which he sustained a great fight.
When guiding this church, the Lord calls our attention and awakens our interest through descriptive words: "These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation...." In his statement, there is nothing that "symbolizes" his manifest splendor, but rather a declaration of his true glory.
Such a statement creates a contrast. To the one who considers himself a complete failure, He guides as One who is incapable of failure. This is a triple declaration of authority, based on the facts that are the cause and reason of all things.
He is the "Amen." The root meaning of this word is "to rest secure, stable"; its meaning is from something that is already firmly established, edifying and positive. He (Christ) expresses the truth of the absolute stability and true accuracy of all that God has thought, spoken and done. The title is the same as the declaration "I am the Truth." Not, 'I teach, declare, explain'. He is the truth himself, truth expressed in a Person, truth against which there can be no appeal. Amen is the conclusion, because it is complete maturity, perfect edification, the last word, the end, to which nothing can be added. He is the final Authority, the Amen. Hallelujah!
He is "The faithful and true witness." He is precisely so because He is the Amen, the Truth. That which He speaks is faithful and true. When He speaks, there is no exaggeration or reduction. What He says is the exact truth, because He is, in himself, absolute Truth, and there is nothing else beyond Him in the whole Kingdom of Truth. The church in Laodicea had failed in its testimony and the Teacher draws near as "the faithful and true witness" to expose their failure. He who announces this won't exaggerate their condition, nor allow anything to be hidden.
The last sentence brings us again to His sublime majesty. The ruler of God's creation refers to Him as the source and origin of the creation (see John 1:3; Col. 1:15-18; Hebrews 1:2). It is one of the columns of truth upon which the epistle to the Colossians rests: "the first-born over all creation...."
One might understand by this that He was created, but the literal translation refers to Him as the source and origin of all creation, because in Him, for Him and by Him all things were made. Before the world existed, He was. Before the glistening stars shone, He existed, because He is God. Hallelujah! Holy is the Lord! When coming closer to Laodicea, He comes as One whose position is infinitely higher than that of priest, prophet or king, speaking with the authority of the cause of all creation.
We can trace His prints through the whole creation, and each touch of beauty demonstrates the work of His hands. There is not a flower that doesn't give testimony of Him, nor a wonderful or majestic panorama that man delights in viewing that doesn't sing the solemn hymn of His power and beauty (see Psalm 19). In the precision of created things, in the passing of seasons, in the dawn and twilight, in the resurgence of spring when it emerges out of its winter dress toward the encounter of summer's splendor, and when crossing autumn with its bronzed and glorious robe, one discovers Christ's power in everything.
The Lord's Complaints
To the lifeless, indifferent, self-sufficient, and independent church of Laodicea, Jesus comes without any word of approval. However, He speaks many words of hope. His complaint and advice come at the same time.
The Lord's complaint is in three parts. First, "You are neither..." This is the general condition of the church, as the Lord can see. The second, "You say..." This is what the church believes itself to be. The third, "You are..." reveals the church's true condition in meticulous and detailed form.
First, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot." Second, "You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth, and do not need a thing." Third, "But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked."
First complaint: "You are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!" The church was not characterized by complete indifference, nor was it known for its fervor. It's not that they didn't believe in the Lord, but that they were in a condition of indifference and conformity to the surrounding culture. That is to say, they were in a condition of "lukewarmness." The Lord prefers we be cold, because there is more hope for somebody who is openly cold than for somebody lukewarm. In everything, He wants us to be burning, fervent, committed. For the Lord, being lukewarm is abhorrent.
This is not our own idea, it is in the letter that we consider in this hour. If there is something that Christ's heart abhors, it is a lukewarm church. He would prefer to have a cold or hot church, but not a lukewarm one. For Him, lukewarm is something that provokes vomiting and turns him away.
"Lukewarm..." That is the condition in which there is no conviction to affect the conscience, the heart or the will. It is an indifferent and self-sufficient state with regard to the world, sin, Christ, and the church. Everything is diffuse. It doesn't deny the cross or correct doctrine; it has objective knowledge that the Lord died on the Cross. It recognizes that the cross has to become a subjective work in our hearts, restricting us, like John the Baptist said, "He must become greater, I must become less" (John 3:30). But for those who know the doctrine of the cross so well and declare, "I must die so that others live," when the hour comes to die, they refuse to follow through. They backpedal, they escape, they don't accept such a "process." They like doctrine, they like salvation, but they are not willing to die. They are lukewarm.
A wooden cross with iron nails; an agonizing death, wounds, blood and pain are something very central to the theory of the cross. I say this with firmness because I know God disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:6). I also know that God's beloved, sooner or later, will go through these experiences. If they have not happened to you yet, don't fear, because what is impossible for men is possible for God and He is powerful enough to sustain us. But, if you have passed through it, you will understand to what I refer. And if you are passing through it in this moment, may the Lord help you appropriately and may your faith not be lacking.
When the cross is a doctrine or a decoration, there is no death. But, do you know what? It doesn't produce life, either. However, the Lord died to give us life. The apostle permanently experienced this, "...I die every day" (1 Corinthians 15:31), so that others would have life.
Their Opinion of Themselves
In second term, the church gives its own opinion of itself. What did this church say? "I am rich, I have acquired wealth." It is the language of complete self-satisfaction: I have acquired wealth, I am full, I don't need a thing. Who will come to speak or to teach me? It is an independent church, with abundant possessions, satisfied in itself. There is no mention of humility, prayer, or consecration. They didn't need anything, they had everything. This causes us to meditate: have we really appropriated the things the Lord has for us? Are they a reality in our life or are they purely intellectual or mental knowledge?
The Lord's Loving Complaints
Third, "You are poor." The word transmits a sense of the beggar that walks the streets requesting money. According to the Lord's concept of wealth, He regarded this church, that was seemingly so affluent, as a vile beggar, not possessing anything that was really worth having.
You are blind. The church's lack of vision doesn't allow them to look beyond their narrow limits, their beautiful possessions, their external appearance, their buildings, and their mere human knowledge.
They didn't look to or consider anything else. The church in Laodicea didn't have the vision to see the Lord's work around the world; it didn't have a view that extended beyond the limits of their own town. In a certain moment, it didn't have eyes to see other brothers and sisters suffering and chained, because they were so self-centered, and looking at their wealth and possessions. They didn't have eyes to see that others were being lost and that there was no one who would preach them the truth. "Whom will I send, who will go?" says the Lord. We are very happy here. May the Lord help us!
You are naked, robbed of the robe of glory and beauty that should adorn the church, Jesus Christ's bride. That beautiful linen robe is a symbol of the righteous deeds of the saints. They didn't have it, because they insisted on pointing out that "they did not have need of anything."
Let us notice the Lord is compassionate in His rebuke. There is no anger. He is not angry with the situation in the church, because He can remedy all of it. His anger resides -if we could speak of it in this way- in that they are satisfied with such things. That is what afflicted and continues to afflict the Lord's heart.
"Wretched." This condition always appeals to sympathy. What does seeing a person suffering cause in a sensitive heart? The desire to help. "Pitiful." Compassion.
But these people are saying, "I am rich, I have acquired wealth and do not need of a thing!" No one is as miserable as one in need who resists help. We should have all the more compassion on such persons.
The Lord's Advice
The Lord's advice (that manifests his loving and benign heart), expresses his desire, "I wish you were either one or the other." Second, his intention: "I am about to spit you out of my mouth." (1) Lastly, his immediate advice: "Buy from me..." We have already said there are infinitely more possibilities for a cold person than for a lukewarm one. The latter is indifferent and thinks he is well. The cold, in any moment, can repent and return to the Lord. But the lukewarm is neither here nor there. There is more hope for a man who is outside the church than for a man inside, sufficiently near the heat, yet not appreciating it.
"I wish you were either one or the other." It is a cry. I remember the Lord's cry outside the gates of Jerusalem. (Matthew 23:37) I wish you were either one or the other! But not lukewarm, otherwise I will have to spit you out.
"I am about to spit you out." This is not about separating the Christian from his relationship with Christ. It is a call to a church that has a lamp stand of testimony and faces the possibility of losing it.
The Lord wants to show them the true wealth, the true clothing, all they need is in Him and only in Him. The only impediment for the church will be that it continuing with the vain illusion that is rich and has need of nothing. The church will return to the blessing if it throws itself upon the ground, in humility, with broken hearts, where it can truly say, "I am poor, wretched, blind and naked, but the Lord is rich!" Hallelujah! Then He will console them with the love of His heart, He will enrich them with His unspeakable gifts and will dress them with His own white robes.
When He says "buy", there is grace that needs to be received; the Lord is willing to give it. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." In fact, He is saying, "Seek everything in me!".
The Brilliant Light of Love
All of a sudden, like lightning, almost out of context, after these complaints and advice, with a heart full of infinite love, he says, "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline." The Lord could have left the church, He could have abandoned it, but He loves the church, He loved it and He will always love it.
He loves it in spite of its failures. His love is the reason why He rebukes and advises the church. He loved it even to the point of death, and for that reason he speaks in this way to His church. Then follow words full of urgency: "So be earnest and repent." But, how will they be able to return? They are so far off. Can we pity how far they had strayed? Brothers and sisters, they don't have to go far, even when the distance is great. He is at our side!
Christ's Pain is Excluded
Let us listen to these words which are full of grace: "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." What a surprising revelation!
Do you know the church in Laodicea had plenty material goods and didn't lack anything? What was their disgrace? Christ was outside the door, seeking entrance! He calls from outside. It is certainly true that we have used this passage many times to evangelize people who don't know the Lord: "Open the door of your heart, and the Lord will enter in." It is true, but here He speaks to a church.
The Lord is outside of the church and he knocks! They have choirs, they have seats, carpeted floor, instruments, songs. They are not completely cold. Perhaps they have correct doctrines, but Christ is outside! That is their disgrace, which is the surprising revelation: He is excluded! They have everything except Jesus Christ. "...and knock..." excluded... "and knock..." Oh, Lord! Do we understand this? May the Lord help us. He made all things. He left the heavens; He left his throne of glory through love for us. He came to this world, being rich, He became poor, to make us rich. Holy is the Lord! He left the heavens, He became flesh, He humbled himself... and his own people rejected him! They whipped him, they mocked and crucified him. They put him on the cross, with iron nails and killed him. Christ was excluded from the world that He created and by His people Israel.
But, now, He was not only excluded by them. He also was excluded by the church in Laodicea, left outside knocking on the door. He waits. Why does He wait? He waits for a man or a woman ("if anyone hears my voice"), to allow him to enter. He says, "... I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me." "I will be his guest, I will eat with him, and he will be my guest and he with Me. I will sit down at the table of his love and I will satisfy my heart." He tells us this because His delight is with mankind (Proverbs (8:23). He wants to reign in our heart. He loves us; he loved us until the end. "If someone opens the door, I will come in and sit down at the table that my love will provide, and it will satisfy his heart."
Oh, brothers and sisters, see the vision! We confront apostasy with faithfulness. We contrast falsehood with the truth. Adorned poverty comes face to face with infinite wealth. Lukewarmness and hypocrisy is faced with compassion and devotion.
"I stand at the door and knock." What do you want, oh regal Lord? What do you want, standing at the door? "I desire a man, only a man (or woman) that will open the door so I can enter, and eat with him, and he with me."
A Great Promise for Great Conquerors
Finally, the promise for the conqueror: "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches." It is a sublime promise, a tremendous promise! What the True one, the Amen says is this: "To he that overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne!" It is as if the Lord knows that this church has the hardest battle and, in consequence, he also gives a great promise for those who overcome.
Is there not a suggestion of the same temptation that Jesus had to confront in these words? He says, "To him who overcomes... just as I overcame." How did He overcome? Many thoughts may well come together to answer this question. However, look, He is speaking to people whose greatest evil is that they try to take the easy path. They don't have compassion on anybody; they don't care about the lost world, nor their brothers and sisters in chains. They don't have need of a thing; they have enough of their own wealth. They don't have compassion; they don't delight in the Lord. They are lukewarm. And He tells these people, "Overcome, just as I overcame."
Does this not remind us of a subtle temptation? Let us examine this further. What temptation did the Lord experience in the desert? What did Satan propose to him there? He told him, among other things that he would give Jesus all the Kingdoms of the earth if He would bow down and adore him. What the devil was telling him was that he would give Jesus all that he would eventually have, but without pain, without nails, without abuse, without lashes, without blood and without the cross!
Such subtle temptation was not only showed in the desert. When Peter says, "Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you." He replies, "Get behind me, Satan", for He felt the temptation to avoid the suffering that awaited him.
When this didn't work out, whether in the desert, or with Peter, Satan said, "Very well, we will kill him and finish this once and for all, because I am the prince of this world. I conquered man, I deceived him in the Garden of Eden, and I have power over all flesh and the world belongs to me." Jesus himself declared, that Satan was the prince of this world (John 12:31; 16:11). Paul calls him "the god of this world." (2 Corinthians 4:4)
I will say something with much care. I believe the echo of that temptation can also be seen in Gethsemane. An echo, only an echo, in the garden of Gethsemane, there one could hear a voice crying, "Father... Father, ...if you are willing, take this cup from me." He was going to suffer because He was human. He was perfect. He felt not only physical pain but also spiritual, when He took the sin of all men upon him. "If you are willing, take this cup from me." In some way, the enemy told him, "Don't sacrifice yourself, why make such an effort in this life? Why are you determined to go along this painful road? Worship me!" But Jesus overcame! "Yet not my will, but yours be done!" He conquered and sat down with His Father on His throne! Hallelujah! Glory to God! There was only one path that would culminate in the coronation, and the Lord took it in perfect obedience.
To Admit Christ Again
Finally, let us fix our eyes on the excluded figure of Christ. Oh, how He has suffered and still suffers! By His own will He was excluded from the heavens for the salvation of the lost. Then, excluded by His nation because of their blindness; later, excluded from His world for the apparent victory of the forces of evil. And now -It is hard to say- excluded so many times by His own church, by the lukewarm indifference of those that imagine they have everything, but don't have anything.
Lastly, we see the incomparable patience and tenderness of the Son of God who has been insulted, excluded and is about to spit those that are totally abhorrent from His mouth. Yet He waits, because the day of vengeance has still not arrived, He has not brought down His hand of judgment. He has not spat them out of His mouth. He waits, knocking at the door, desiring to enter into a new communion with men and women. One cannot add anything that shows greater tenderness. However, we have learned that the only remedy for the lukewarm is to again admit Christ, whom has been excluded.
Apostasy has to be confronted with His faithfulness, flippancy with a conviction that emanates from His authority, poverty with His wealth, indifference with the great fire of His enthusiasm and death with the divine life that is contained in His gift, which we have received.
There is no other remedy for the wickedness of the world nor for the lukewarm church, than by admitting Christ into our hearts again. Amen, thank you, Jesus!
(1) The Reina Valera 1960 translation uses the stronger term "vomit you out of my mouth", unlike the NIV, which uses "spit you out of my mouth."