The Church of the Laodiceans

“And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked – I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous 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 dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit 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.” ‘ ” (Revelation 3:14-22)

Over the past few years I have heard many pastors and teachers suggest that believers who are “lukewarm” in their faith should be concerned about their security in the Lord. Even recently I heard a national level pastor use this text to explain why he had resigned from his duties as their pastor. He said he was insecure about where he was in Christ – and was in need of time away to be sure he was “hot” in his faith before continuing in ministry. He proceeded to tell his former congregation that he was equally insecure about the salvation of many in the congregation he had served. Therefore, I am compelled to write and explain why I believe there were no believers in the church of the Laodiceans. When this passage is misunderstood, and applied to believers, it can have devastating effects.

To the Seven Churches of Asia

When Jesus communicated this message to John, He told him to deliver it to the seven churches which were in Asia. He said, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,’ and, ‘What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.'” (Revelation 1:11) The message to the churches was delivered to the angel of the church. The nature of the “angel” has been debated for years. Some suggest he is a spiritual entity, others contend he was the pastor of the specified church. The reason this is unclear is because the Greek word used (angelos) can be translated angel or messenger. We may not know the answer to this debate this side of eternity. However, the specific nature of the messenger is not important – the message is.

The message to the church of the Laodiceans is of particular interest to me because it is communicated to a “church” – and because the participants of that church are apparently nauseating to the Lord. The fact that the Lord tells them that their lukewarmness is the cause of His displeasure provides a difficult interpretive dilemma.

Of the Laodiceans…

The address begins with the phrase, “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write…” This phraseology deserves attention. When Jesus addressed the other churches in the book of the Revelation, His expression is translated, “in” the particular city, or, “of” the city. However, to this church the translation reads, “of the Laodiceans.” To some this may seem insignificant, but as I read it, it is of critical importance. The difference being that of possession! When Jesus says, “to the angel of the church in” a given city, He identifies the church as His own. When the expression “of the Laodiceans” is used, it may indicate the church being the possession of the residents themselves. In this case, “the Laodiceans.”

Some will correctly argue that the expressions “of”, “of the”, and “in”, vary in different Greek manuscripts. They also vary in different English translations. However, I intend to show, (the variations being what they are) “of the” is contextually consistent with the whole of this particular address.

Laodicea?

The name of the city of Laodicea may provide us some insight. In the Scriptures a name will often carry meaning. This is certainly true with at least a few of these seven churches. For example, Philadelphia defined is, “brotherly love”. In this case, Laodicea means, “rule of the people”. So, may I suggest that the church “of the Laodiceans” may mean the church where “the people rule”.

If this is true, the Laodicean church – in this context – may not be a church where Jesus rules, but where the people rule. Furthermore, as we will see, Jesus is pictured outside this church seeking entrance.

Your Works…

The expression, “I know your works”, can refer to the behavior or the product produced by the church or individual. In this case it is an evaluatory statement describing the character, condition, state, nature, and circumstance of the church. The “works” are the resulting by-product Jesus used to identify the problems with this church.

In the book of Matthew we read, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 7:17–19) If the “members” of the church of the Laodiceans were regenerated, the resulting “work” would be good fruit. However, to Jesus the “fruit” of the church of the Laodiceans, was unpalatable.

When a person is regenerated they are made new. Paul said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Therefore, Jesus discussions about trees and fruit illustrated the need for regeneration. When a person is made new in Christ, the resulting fruit is good. When a person is unregenerated they cannot produce good fruit.

God is pleased with the believers “works” because Christ is producing them in us – according to His will. The believer is, “a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

You are Neither Cold nor Hot

Jesus said, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot.” The definition of cold and/or hot in this passage does not refer to body temperature. It is the description of the “works” of the church. We have already identified the fact that these “works” describe the character, condition, state, or nature of the church. Therefore, “works” in this passage describes the nature of the “church.” It is clear that Jesus is telling them they were “neither cold nor hot” toward Him.

This can be best illustrated by a group of people who may be “believers” in the historical Jesus, but have no real interest in Him as Savior. May I suggest this could be said of a great majority of the United States population? It could also be said of many Israeli Jews today. They may believe Jesus was a man who was present in historical Israel, but they don’t have an active faith or trust in Him as Messiah. Sadly, these applications may fit many church going people today. Many are in a church group but are nonetheless unregenerated!

I believe that the “church of the Laodiceans” addressed in this context is a group of people who claim to be “Christian” but are in fact serving none but themselves and need to be born again.

How Hot is Hot Enough?

The misuse of this text has caused an untold number of genuine believers great distress. The question of, “How hot is hot enough?” is plaguing. If the evaluation “you are lukewarm” is interpreted as energy, zeal, passion, and activity in and for the Lord, the believer is never assured of his or her position in Christ. There is no standard of measurement used to evaluate the believer, and as a result, the believer is left to insecurity. The question faced would become, “Is Jesus happy with me?” “Is He ready to ‘vomit’ me out of His mouth?” “Do I have confidence in the Lord’s promise to save me?” Where am I on the hot and cold scale?

Hot and Cold?

Jesus said, “I could wish you were cold or hot.” Many will ask, “Why would He say I would rather you were cold than lukewarm?” Simply put, it may be better to be cold and know there is a need than to be lukewarm and comfortable in sin and without a Savior. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” (Matthew 5:3) With this in mind I might suggest that hot could refer to those who know and love the Lord. However, we are hard pressed to put specific definitions on hot and cold. We are only told that Jesus rejects the “lukewarm.” That is all we know with certainty!

You Say, “I am Rich…and Have Need of Nothing”

Jesus says to the church of the Laodiceans, “you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” However, those who are born again are in fact clothed in Christ. We are rich in the things of God, and are as Paul the Apostle put it, “washed… sanctified… [and] justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11) This passage was Paul’s description of the “carnal” Christians he addressed in Corinth. He even told them, “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:30) The true believer needs nothing but the righteousness of Christ – and Paul knew this. He did call the Corinthians to obedience fitting their profession – not so that they could become “washed… sanctified… [or] justified” – but because they were. To the Colossians Paul said, “And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” (Colossians 2:10) He told Titus that it is, “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5) This alone reinforces the fact that it is “not by works of righteousness which we [or the Laodiceans] have done [or failed to have done]”, that Jesus uses as criteria for acceptance or rejection. It is God’s work of mercy, washing and regenerating us, by faith alone, in Christ alone, that makes us acceptable!

Most Christians don’t understand that God sees a believer’s “sanctification” just as complete as their “redemption” and “justification.” Paul wrote, “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:30) God puts Jesus in the believer by the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish their redemption, justification, and sanctification. What He has begun He will finish – He can’t fail to do it. This is why a believer can be “confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) My friends, “It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)

Remember, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) How righteous is God? That is how righteous the believer is in Christ!

Repent and Buy from Me Gold…

Jesus follows the rebuke with, “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” This statement makes crystal clear that the wealth, the clothing, and the eye salve the Laodiceans needed was not something they could produce, it would only be found in Him. The fact that He tells them to “buy from” Him what they needed indicated His willingness to provide.

May we always remember that it is by grace that, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son”, and that grace extends through His command to repent. It is important to see that His statement, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent” comes with both the love of God, His manifested Grace, His willingness, and moreover, His desire to save. Likewise remember that God will not ask us to do what we (or the Laodiceans) could not do!

I Stand at the Door and Knock

When addressing the church of the Laodiceans Jesus said, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” In this quote we see that Jesus was not in the church – but on the outside. He is asking to come in, and promises fellowship with anyone who would open to Him. This indicates that there was no one “inside” the church who had already opened to Him. Therefore, once again, I suggest that there were no regenerated persons in the church of the Laodiceans.

To Him Who Overcomes

Jesus said to the church of the Laodiceans, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” This too indicates that those in the church of the Laodiceans were unsaved. We know this because the believer is an overcomer! “Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:5) The one who overcomes is the one who believes! The one who believes is the one who is redeemed, justified, and sanctified!

Secondly, we know that believers are already seated with Christ in the heavenly places. Paul told the Ephesians, “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. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:4–9) We can therefore safely show that believers will sit with Jesus in His throne – not by works – but by grace through faith alone. Once again, I suggest that the Laodiceans addressed in this passage were not genuine believers and were therefore being offered the opportunity to “sit with [Him] on [His] throne, as [He] also overcame and sat down with [His] Father on His throne.”

May We Hear

The last statement made in the exhortation was, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” This sentence is the final statement made to all seven churches. We can see that the letters to these churches have an application to all churches in all generations of the Church Age. It is clear that this letter was intended to be part of the canon of Scripture. It is therefore appropriate to use the plural expression “churches”. We can be sure that there will be people in every “church” that will need to hear the true gospel and believe. Had the last sentence in each of these letters been in the singular, we would need to lock in a time period relative to that specific church, localize the specific church in the specified Asian city, and limit it to a specific period of time.

What About the Laodicean Brethren Referenced in Colossians?

Paul identified genuine believers in Laodicea when he wrote, “Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house.” (Colossians 4:15) However, this does not force the fact into the Revelation text. There were several years between the writing of the letter to the Colossians and communicating of the message of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Secondly, even if there were believers in the city of Laodicea (and I am sure there were) the letter to the church of the Laodiceans is specific to the group addressed.

The Peace of God

I believe that it is God’s will that every believer finds rest in the Lord. Those who misinterpret the letter to the church of the Laodiceans – as though it was addressed to believers – will be hard pressed to find that rest. They will not be able to measure the level of their spiritual temperature, know when they are clothed enough, rich enough, see well enough, have repented enough, or produced enough good work to merit the salvation offered by grace through faith alone. The fruit of misinterpreting the passage will produce fear and confusion. God loves us and wants us to know His love, His salvation, and the peace that passes all understanding.

“For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” (1 Corinthians 14:33)

Therefore,

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6–7)

And know this –

“Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.” (2 John 1:3)

“Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20–21)

Rest in the Love of God and know that,

“…we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Pastor Paul