We've been at the church of Ephesus, the church at Smyrna, the church at Pergamos, the church at Thyatira, the church at Sardis, the church at Philadelphia - and now we come to the church of Laodicea. We begin our reading at chapter 3 and verse 14, and it will take us right to the end of the chapter. I've entitled this message, of course, tonight: 'Laodicea, The Lukewarm Church'.
Verse 14 then: "And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans", or the church in Laodicea, "write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. 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: 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 eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. 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. 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. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches".
It's a while since we were at the church in Philadelphia, and for the benefit also of those who are with us for the first time tonight in this series, let me just summarise how we understand these seven letters to the seven churches. We've seen, with some minor exceptions, that there is a pattern that is common to each of the seven churches written to. The first thing we encounter in each is a revealed characteristic, or characteristics, of our Lord Jesus that are particularly fitting to the church that He is speaking to. Of course, this book is, let us remember, the Revelation of Jesus Christ - but as He is revealed to each of these churches, He is revealed in different aspects of His character that they in particular need to see because of their predicament.
Now, in Laodicea we see in verse 14 how He is revealed: 'These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God'. Now most of the characteristics that we see in the seven churches are derived from the vision that we have studied in chapter 1, but these characteristics here in verse 14 don't come particularly from that vision, but from chapter 1 and verse 5 where we see these similar titles given to our Lord. Now we did say, in our last study I think it was, that there is no adequate vision of our Lord Jesus that could fully depict Him in His full-orbed personality and characteristics. So the Holy Spirit here guides John to go outside of the vision given in chapter 1, and speaks of our Lord as 'the faithful and true witness'. Now that was so relevant to where Laodicea were, we'll see that as we go through our study tonight. They needed to look to Him as the Faithful One, as the True One, as the Amen of God.
Not only do we see in each letter a characteristic of the Lord, but then there often comes a commendation. Now of course there are a couple of exceptions - Sardis didn't receive a commendation of the Lord, and Laodicea that we're looking at tonight, doesn't receive one either. In fact, there is nothing positive that our Lord has to say about Laodicea. He did commend some in Sardis, but there's nothing good said to the Laodiceans. The irony of that is the fact that they think they're perfect - more time will be spent on that in a few moments.
Then thirdly, in each letter we often find a criticism, of course with the exception of Smyrna who were the suffering persecuted church; and Philadelphia that was a small church and very weak, but the Lord Jesus was pleased with them. Now when we encounter this church tonight, Laodicea, in human terms they are the strongest of the seven - and yet they receive the strongest criticism from our Lord. They are wealthy and, as far as they are concerned, without any want - and yet, as far as our Lord is concerned, in His eyes they have the greatest need of the seven. In verses 15 to 16 we see that very clearly: 'You are neither cold nor hot: I would that you were cold or hot. You're lukewarm, because of that I'll spew you out of my mouth'. Verse 17 tells us they were deceived - that's not how they saw themselves at all! They saw themselves as rich, increased with goods, and having need of nothing - self-deceived, an awful predicament to be in! So that is their criticism.
Then fourthly, we find often in these letters a corrective command - and we have it here to Laodicea in verses 18 and 19. The Lord counsels them to buy gold tried in the fire, so on and so forth, as we'll see that in detail later on. Then to each church He ends with a commitment, it is here in verses 20 and 21 to Laodicea, to the overcomers, to those in church circumstances, the prevailing circumstances of the city and assembly in which those Christians resided, those who overcame those conditions would be rewarded. Here we have the reward to Laodicea in verses 20 and 21: if they opened the door to the knocking Christ, well, they would sit with Christ in His throne on a day that is yet to be.
Now let me just remind you of the significance of these seven letters. In chapter 1 and verse 19 we have what we feel is an outline of this whole book of Revelation: 'Write the things', John is told, 'which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter'. Now the things that he had seen was the vision of chapter 1, the things which were in his day are the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3, and the things which shall be here after are chapter 4 - or thereabouts at least - right through to the end of the book. We have seen, of course, that there were more than seven churches in Asia Minor, but the Holy Spirit guided John to pick out these seven as representative churches, and they are addressed in clockwise order as you will see from the map on the screen, and as you can read from the account in the scriptures - which may well indicate that what we have here, in a prophetic sense, is a complete timeline, chronologically, of the history of the church from the ascension of our Lord Jesus right through to His second coming.
So we have here in the book of Revelation a divine revelation concerning the church age, a complete picture, if you like, of the moral and spiritual history of the church. Now that has been understood in three ways: first, literally - that's always the way we should understand Scripture, as far as we can do. These were seven literal churches, in literal Asia Minor, with literal Christians, in these literal situations, with literal problems, with literal counsel from the Saviour that they needed to put into practice. Secondly we can also see in these seven that there is something universal, they are each an illustration of the good and bad characteristics that will be in the church everywhere in every age. Those characteristics are very similar at times to the characteristics that we find in the seven kingdom parables of Matthew chapter 13, features that we will find in every age of church history.
So these seven can be understood literally, universally, and thirdly: prophetically. We saw this each week, though we didn't labour on it much. Ephesus gives us a very graphic picture of the loveless church, of the church in post-apostolic days. When John alone was alive and very old, and about to pass into glory, the church was orthodox in doctrine and yet was beginning to lose - if it had not completely lost - its first love, the things it loved in the beginning. Then we saw that after that church came the church in Smyrna, a period that we would liken to, perhaps, the persecuted church period from the first to the fourth century when the church endured the persecution of many Roman emperors. Then we came to the church at Pergamos, and that was the compromising church, and of course Pergamos means 'married', and this was a church who historically speaking had lost its fidelity to Christ and had become allied with the world. The church of the fourth and fifth century, after the spurious conversion of Constantine when the church became the state religion of the empire in AD313, we see much corruption entering in at that stage.
Then we have the church at Thyatira, it is the corrupt church, and of course Thyatira means 'continual sacrifice', and it is during this historic church period around the sixth and seventh centuries that we start to see what we now know as Roman Catholicism coming to the fore. Eventually there is a glorious Reformation in the 16th century and we are led into the Sardis period, Sardis meaning 'escaping' or 'remnant', and this was a church that had a name that they lived but they were dead, the dead church. Whilst we must definitely say that the Reformation was a glorious act of God, many of the ecclesiastical systems that came out of it were established by men, and that church began to die - and we have the remnants of it in several denominations even today. Then we have the Philadelphian church, 'the faithful church' we called it, and Philadelphia means 'brotherly love'. After the general death of Protestantism as it was seen in the early Reformation days, God was pleased to send gracious revivals, His Holy Spirit bringing Christians back to the simplicity and primitiveness of New Testament truth - and so we liken that to the period of the 18th-century revivals and the early 19th century. During that period we saw that many New Testament principles concerning the church and the local assembly were restored, and principles concerning Christ's second coming were rediscovered. Also during that time there was a great door and effectual that was opened for the opportunity to spread the gospel worldwide in new modern missionary endeavours.
But this evening we visit Laodicea, the lukewarm church. If we're going to classify this in a prophetic sense, and attempt to fit it into the whole chronology of the church age, the meaning of Laodicea literally is 'the people ruling', or 'the rights of the people'. People in the church who are demanding their own rights, and the result of that is that public opinion begins to prevail rather than the standards of the word of God. So democracy is marking this Laodicean church, and indeed democracy that is almost ending in anarchy. I think you'll agree, hopefully, as we pass through this study tonight, that we see clearly - at least in a prophetic sense - many of the characteristics of what Paul spoke of to Timothy when he said: 'The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears'. The rights of the people become more important than the rights of the Lord. Many believe, myself included, that this paints a picture to us of the church that will be before the Lord comes. Indeed, would you allow me to say the church that exists, perhaps, today, at least in the West?
But we want to study this church, as we have done the others, first and foremost in a literal sense. What was the Lord saying to this church as it existed in John's day? Then another interpretation that is too often left out of this glorious book of Revelation: we need to interpret it personally. At the end of each of these letters, including this one, in verse 22, we see that we are called upon personally to 'have an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches'. So let us look at Laodicea tonight, the lukewarm church and not only see what it has to say to a church just before the second coming of Christ, not only what it says to a church today that is lukewarm in the West, but what it is saying to our church and what it is saying to me as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ in the day and age in which we live.
Now each night we've looked first of all at the city in question. Of course the city is Laodicea, it's about 40 miles from Philadelphia where we were last. When it was under Roman rule, Laodicea became a very very wealthy city - indeed it was one of the richest commercial centres of the world, and this is illustrated by the historical records: when Laodicea was destroyed by a terrible earthquake about AD 60, they were able to rebuild the whole city without any outside help, they had so much wealth of their own. Now we don't know how this church began in Laodicea, it may have begun through the wider missionary influence of the apostle Paul nearby. We do feel that he didn't visit it, we read that in Colossians chapter 2 and chapter 4 where he mentions it as he writes to the church at Colossae - and it may be, as Colossians 1 verse 7 would indicate, that Epaphras was actually the man that first preached the gospel and planted a church there in Laodicea. Now we know from Colossians 4 verse 16 that Paul instructed that the letter to Colossae should be read in the Laodicean church, and he indicated there that there was another letter that was coming from Laodicea that he had written to them. Now that was either a letter that has been lost, or it may well have been - as some feel - the letter to the Ephesians, which was a circular letter that may have been instructed to be read in Colossae and indeed in Laodicea.
Now in later times this city was known as a Christian city of great importance. Two reasons why we think that: there was a bishop in Laodicea, and there were church councils that were conducted at that venue of Laodicea. Very little is known other than that when the middle ages came, the Muslims destroyed the city of Laodicea, and what was once the greatest city of wealth in that area became a mass of ruins - most of Laodicea still is under the ground, it has not been excavated. Now when that happened, I suspect that it was round about the time, if not the exact period, when the lampstand of that church in Laodicea was removed. We saw in previous studies how politics, how even geography, how even earthquakes and all sorts of natural disasters can be seen in the history of the church to actually be the hand of God disciplining the witness in that particular area. Something happened to the church at Laodicea, the likelihood is that its witness was taken away by the Lord Himself - why? I'm reminded of the words of Horatius Bonar: 'I looked for the church, and I found it in the world; I looked for the world, and I found it in the church'. This was a wealthy city, one of the wealthiest in this region, and the wealth of that city had affected the church, and it lulled them into a spiritual slumber and anaesthesia. So what we are getting tonight, as we look at Laodicea, is a picture of a church in an affluent society. Could I therefore say that I don't think there's any other church that is as relevant to us in our age here in the Western world.
The characteristics of how our Lord is revealed to Laodicea are very instructive. Verse 14: He is presented, as He is to each of the seven churches, as the Christ for their need. How is He presented here? 'The Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the Creation of God'. The Lord is saying: 'This is what you need, Laodicea, you need to get a fresh glimpse of Me' - that's what every church needs in every age, that's what this church needs, that's what these Christians need - get a fresh glimpse of Christ, a new revelation, a new manifestation of His Glorious Person! The aspects, as He is revealed to Laodicea, are very telling - first He is revealed as the Amen. Now that might initially seem to be a strange title for our Lord Jesus - it is often translated, by the way, in the New Testament by the word 'verily', or 'truly'. Of course John, who is writing this book, is very fond of that term in his gospel: 'Verily, verily I say unto you'. It is the same word that we end our prayers with, because that's the usage in the Scripture, where we say 'Amen' at the end of our intercession, which actually means 'So let it be', 'So be it'. So what it is describing is something that we are saying is true.
In Isaiah 65 and verse 16, God is called 'the God of truth'. By calling the Lord Jesus 'Amen' here, we are seeing His divinity, and the fact that He is the Word of God, and He is the Truth of God, and in Him is the message that God wants to speak to the world. Or as Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 1: 'All the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us'. In other words, Jesus Christ is God's final Word, Jesus is God's 'Amen'. Can I just say in passing that that means Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, all the prophets of the Jehovah's Witnesses, Christadelphians - you name it - Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy: they're all impostors! All of them! Because Jesus Christ is God's final Word, His Amen, and He has nothing more to say after Him.
He is the Faithful and True, which is of course along the same vein. He's saying to Laodicea: 'Look to Me!'. Now this is the import of it, I believe: 'I was faithful in a similar situation to you in Laodicea, look to Me. If you look to Me you will overcome in Laodicea'. Now remember, this is a church that is living a lie, they are self-deceived - and the Lord is telling them: 'Look up to Me, the One who is the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness. In My humanity I was pure, I was faithful, and testified to God in absolute completeness and perfection. Look to the Truth - I am the way, the truth and the life'.
Then thirdly, He is described as 'the beginning of the creation of God'. He is the beginning of the creation of God materially and spiritually, both. Now that phrase does not mean that the Lord Jesus was the first created. It does not say He had a beginning, it says He is the beginning - and if you turn to Revelation 21, if you don't believe me on that one, and verse 6 you will see that it is the Lord Jesus Christ who says: 'I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end'. He is the beginning, not had a beginning, He is the beginning! John's thought, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is that this One who reveals Himself to Laodicea, He is the origin of all things, He is the first cause. In other words, every work of God begins with Him - spiritually and materially. I believe if you take this book from cover to cover, you will find that that is true. Look at every work that God performed, and I guarantee you that the Lord Jesus Christ was involved in it, if not completely instrumental in it. Now remember: this was a church who needed a new beginning, if ever a church did. This was a church who needed a work of God done in its midst - and the irony, the tragic disaster of it was that Christ who is the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of every work of God, was outside the door! It's astounding, isn't it?
I wonder is there a Christian in our gathering here tonight, and you need a work of God in your life? You're a lukewarm Christian, you need a new beginning; you've made a mess as far as you're concerned, you need a new start! Forget about the personal just for a moment, and think about the corporate: church-growth gurus, theologians, popular pastors and preachers and teachers are all asking, 'What does the church of Jesus Christ need today? We need to do something, we are dwindling, there's fewer people coming to church. Even the Christians aren't committed any more, there's no changes in their life, real devotion and sacrifice'. Of course, there is a great temptation to turn to all sorts of gimmickry and human imagination and ingenuity. What does the church of Jesus Christ in the West need? What does it need? I'll tell you what it needs: it needs a fresh vision of Christ - but it needs something else. If it's going to turn to look on Christ, it needs to turn from its sin - and that's why the Lord says to this church, and indeed, remember, to five out of the seven churches, 'Repent! Repent! Repent! Repent! Repent!', five times.
Now the problem is: the church today, at least in the West, is characterised by a Laodicean spirit, which is the rule and the rights of the people. What am I talking about? Well, 'Vox populi, vox Dei', 'The voice of the people is the voice of God' seems to be our motto today. Many churches are operating on this basis: things are advocated if they're popular with the people outside, or with carnal Christians inside - and the Bible is effectively set aside. The rights of the people alone, whether it's the people inside or the people outside, is now the compass by which we make decisions and take direction within the church of Jesus Christ. The rights of the people - we hear folk giving advice, and saying: 'What we need to do is take questionnaires, and go round the district here, and ask people what kind of a church they would like'. Don't think I'm making this up, I've heard these things. There was one Bible teacher who said: 'Yes, we should do that, and then we should do exactly the opposite of what they would like - because that's what God says we ought to do!'.
We are at a stage now, even in Ulster, at least in some places, where - in the church now - it can be easier to get on without a sense of Christ than it is to get on with Him. It's easier to get on with a programme when the Holy Spirit is not intruding on our plans, and our wisdom, and our devices, and our strategies - it's easier to get on without Him than it is with Him! Do you know what we need? We need a glimpse that the Laodiceans got of the revealed Christ: the Amen, that's His deity; the Faithful and True Witness, that's His humanity; the Beginning of the creation of God, that's His eternality. We need to see Him as the Amen, the All-conquering One; the Faithful and True Witness, the All-convicting One; the Beginning of the creation of God, the All-controlling One - that's what we need! When was the last book you picked off the bookshelf that was telling you how to fill a church, that told you to look to Christ? Turn from sin?
Well, those are the characteristics they needed to see, and we see that clearly of course from the criticism that is found in verses 15 and 16 that our Lord levels at them. 'I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth' - now there's a contrast here that you've got to see. The contrast is between what the Lord thinks and what they think, what His diagnosis is and what the church's diagnosis is. He says: 'You're neither hot nor cold, and I would that you were either hot or cold'. Now think about this, the word 'cold' here means 'frozen', 'chilled'. The word 'hot' means 'a burning passion', but He says: 'You're neither cold nor burning, but you're lukewarm, you're tepid'.
Now here is a lesson - and I haven't fully followed this through by the way, I'll leave it to you - but I think it is clear, at least, that the Lord is saying: 'I would rather have you one or the other'. Can we say that at least? I'd rather have you a Mary or a Judas, cold or hot - I'd rather have you out and out, or not at all! Boy, that's a revelation in itself! Because here in the West, at least, Christianity for a lot of Christians is a bit of a hobby - it's the weekend, it's the Christianity of convenience, it's not an all-consuming passion, it's not the discipleship that we find in the Gospels and the New Testament, it's a tag on to your career and to your family! Could we interpret what the Lord is saying in this light - it's only a thought and an application - 'I would rather you weren't evangelical, but evangelistic', there's a difference you know! You can be evangelical and not evangelistic. What the Lord is crying for is a people who are out and out, and if they're not out and out, He'd rather they were cold! Now that might confuse you, but I have a suspicion that the reason for that is - and those who witness round the doors will know this - it's often easier to get across to a person who is more antagonistic, than it is to somebody who just agrees with you but has no intention of changing. I think that's the Lord's point. At least when you're cold you know you need something, but being lukewarm is a bit of a salve to the conscience, where you think: 'Well, I've got some temperature at least, that's better than nothing' - the Lord says, 'No it's not!'. You might be more receptive if you were cold, you might see your need if you were cold, but now you're in need of nothing as far as you're concerned!
I'll leave that with you, but one thing is certain: the happiest people in the church of Jesus Christ today are those that are out and out for Him. Do you know who the unhappiest people are? The ones who are trying to have the best of both worlds, and a foot in both camps. They're even less happy than the people out in the world! Do you know what the Lord says? 'You're neither hot nor cold, you're lukewarm, and you make me sick!' - serious, isn't it? This is the Lord of glory speaking! I don't think He's talking about salvation here when He says, 'I'll spew you out of my mouth', He's talking about their testimony, their witness for Him. They are a church, He has addressed them as such. Now in the city of Laodicea, nearby there was a place called Hierapolis and there were hot springs there. Then when you go to Colossae that wasn't far away, there were cold streams there, very refreshing. But by the time the water got to Laodicea through an underground pipe, it was tepid. Now listen: hot water can cleanse and heal, cold water can quench and revive and refresh - but do you know the only thing lukewarm water is good for? It's an emetic, do you know what 'emetic' is? It's an inducer for vomiting. They made the Lord sick - the church!
Look at their verdict on the situation, verse 17: 'Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing'. Materially they had everything, and yet they had nothing and they didn't see it! The word 'I am' there is in the present tense, which means they were habitually going on saying: 'We're alright, what's all this about?'. I imagine, can you imagine: when they got this letter and began to read it out, the indignation and offence that it was to them! They were completely self-deceived. Now that's interesting, because they were obviously proud - 'We have need of nothing' - and pride and ignorance go together. They didn't see things the way they really were. They had become like the city in which they resided: smug, self-sufficient, self-satisfied, self-righteous - and they didn't realise that the very presence of Jesus Christ in blessing had departed from them!
The Lord's verdict continues in verse 17, but rather 'thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked'. He has nothing good to say. Now listen: they were still a church, the Lord addressed them as a church, I believe they were a church - but mark the difference between this church and the others of the six that we have studied. There is no mention of any adversaries that Laodicea had. They have no false doctrine, it would appear. There's no throne of Satan as there was in Pergamos, that had a spiritual and political centre of administration for the ways of Satan from which went out persecution to the church in most of Asia Minor. Because Laodicea wasn't an offence to Satan, he didn't bother with them, no throne of Satan there! There was no synagogue of Satan, there may well have been many Jews in Laodicea - I think I'm right in saying that - but they didn't bother, because the believers here were no threat to them. There was no doctrine of Balaam troubling the people, there was no teaching of the Nicolaitanes here - do you see it? There was no Jezebel teaching when she should have been quiet. This was a church who offended nobody but Christ!
'Thou knowest not', He says, 'that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked'. Let's take the first one, 'wretched' - that word is found in Romans 7, where Paul says: 'O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?', and it means 'a burden'. They had a burden, now mark it please: their burden wasn't their debt, their burden was their wealth! That's not how we see things these days. Then He calls them 'miserable', 'You're an object of pity'. Now please note, the Lord isn't angry here, He got angry at times with these other churches, but He's not angry here. He gets angry at apostasy, but He's not angry, He's ill - feeling ill at least! Nauseated! It nauseates Him when His people are indifferent! We get all annoyed about apostasy, don't we? What about this? What about the thing that makes the Lord sick?
They're poor, that word means 'destitute'. Now please compare this with these other churches for a moment. This church, Laodicea that says 'We are rich', the Lord says 'You're poor, you're destitute' - now that is the poverty of riches! Now when we went to Smyrna in chapter 2 and verse 9, if you look at it, He says: 'I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty', destitution, '(but thou art rich)'. They were suffering for their faith, that's the riches of poverty! Destitute in man's eyes, but in God's eyes they were rich. Then when we go to Sardis we see something similar in verse 1 of chapter 3, the Lord says: 'Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead' - 'You've got a reputation that you're alive, but I know you're dead!'. This church of Laodicea was rich materially, but they had the poverty of riches - they were poor spiritually.
The Lord then says, again in verse 17, 'You're blind'. Oh, they thought they had great vision, but the Lord says: 'No, you don't know where you're going!'. Now this is interesting, you go to the period of the Judges in the Old Testament - who was the last Judge? Samson! Blind! Go to the period of the kingdom, who was the last king? Zedekiah, blind! Now we are in the church age, and it's the last church, and she's blind! Then the Lord says: 'Not only are you blind, but you're naked'. Like Hans Christian Anderson's tale 'The Emperor's New Clothes', they thought they were well attired when they were starkers and didn't know it. I think what Lord meant is: 'You're not adorned with the beauty of the simplicity of New Testament truth, as I have given it to my apostles'. This could have been a church that showed off its new premises and fancy wealth, and had a great budget every AGM and all the rest - not that there's things wrong with that necessarily, but they were favouring the material at the expense of the spiritual! That often happens - but they lost the duty of the primitive simplicity and nature of New Testament truth, and we are in danger of losing that today. I'll tell you this: there is nothing more attractive than it, nothing. A group of God's people meeting around His truth in absolute primitive New Testament simplicity, you'll not need any gimmicks, you'll not need to be sophisticated or professional, people will come to see what God is doing among you!
Laodicea, on a human level, was the place to be - and yet they couldn't see that the greatest enemy was a silent one who took them by stealth, what was it? What was it? Let us sum it up in one word: it was materialism. You've seen the news, and you know the Olympics are coming up soon in China. Though they wouldn't admit it, there is a capitalist revolution there. Communism and its philosophy has largely been rejected in some respects. Yet we have seen there in that nation in modern days one of the greatest revivals, if not the greatest revival in terms of how quickly it happened and how far it has spread, in all of history. Yet tonight, Christian Chinese leaders are saying: 'It could be that consumerism is more an effective killer of Christianity than communism ever was'! You know, they're right.
William Macdonald puts it like this: 'Whatever interpretation we take of the book of the Revelation, it is undeniable that the church of Laodicea presents a vivid picture of the age in which we live. Luxury living abounds on every hand, while souls are dying for want of the gospel. Christians are wearing crowns instead of bearing a cross. We become more emotionally stirred over sports, politics, television than we do over Christ. There is little sense of spiritual need, there is little longing for true revival. We give the best of our lives to the business world, and then turn over the remnants of a wasted career to the Saviour. We cater to our bodies, which in a few short years will return to dust. We accumulate instead of forsake, lay up treasures on earth instead of heaven. The general attitude is: 'Nothing too good for the people of God. If I don't pamper myself, who will? Let's get ahead in the world and give our spare evenings to the Lord''. Macdonald says: 'This is the condition on the eve of Christ's return'.
That was the criticism, now there comes a corrective command. All is not lost. Though we might be nearing the end of the age, if we're not in the last days, or even the last of the last days, it's not hopeless! The Lord gives them a prescription for their condition, and we see it in verses 18 and 19: 'I counsel thee to buy of me', now that's a strange expression, to buy from Christ? Well, in Isaiah 55 and verse 1 we read: 'Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price'. The Lord is speaking of an exchange here. They are to give Him what is useless, and He will give them their usefulness again in exchange - exchange your wealth for gold that is tried in the fire. Now Laodicea was a banking centre, what's the Lord speaking of here? Well, 1 Peter 1 and verse 7 gives us a clue I believe, Peter says: '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'. What's this gold tried in the fire? It's true faith, faith that can be tried and tested. What the Lord is exhorting them to do is exchange their wealth for faith, not to have assurance in uncertain riches but in heaven's bank of faith, not to lay up treasures on earth but in heaven where moth or rust doesn't corrupt. In other words, live for things that money can't buy, and they will endure in the end.
'Buy of me gold tried in the fire', secondly, 'white raiment'. Laodicea was famous for its black wool, and they made black garments with it. The Lord is saying: 'Trade your black for white, repent!'. White garments in Revelation, as chapter 19 and verse 8 tells us, are the righteous acts of the saints. What He is exhorting Laodicea to do is: 'Don't be marked by the flashy clothes you wear, but by an attractive spirituality that is insatiable to those around'. In other words: put off the works of the flesh, and put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ. In 1 Peter 3, the ladies were told not to adorn themselves, necessarily, in the ways of the world - plaiting of hair, wearing of gold, putting on of apparel - 'But let it be the hidden man', now that applies to all of us, not just the females, 'the hidden man of the heart, adornment of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price'. Others don't see it, others don't value it, but in God's eyes it's worth a fortune!
The third thing they were to buy, exchange, was eye-salve. The eye powder that was manufactured in Laodicea was world-famous. It was made into tablet form, and they would grind the tablet down into powder and then they would apply it to eyes. These Laodicean Christians were living in a fool's paradise, they needed their eyes to be opened, they needed the Holy Spirit to give them open eyes of understanding. They needed to see themselves as He sees. They needed to assess themselves as He assessed them. Didn't the Lord say: 'The light of the body is the eye', 'The lamp of the body is the eye'? 'If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!'. They were in darkness, they had lost their vigour - lukewarm! They had lost their values, they were valuing gold rather than faith. They had lost their vesture, not clothed with the righteous acts of the saints. Now we see that they had lost their vision, and without a vision the people perish.
In verse 19 the Lord says: 'As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent'. Would you not look with pity on someone who was poor, wretched, blind and miserable? That's how the Lord is looking at them now: pity. Now, praise His holy name, He's not walking away yet. He loves them! He rebukes them, He chastens them - for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. But what you need to see tonight, wherever you're coming from church wise, or if you're in this church: do we see the hand of God and the Lord Jesus as the Judge-Priest of His church in the troublesome affairs in churches these days? Sure they need to be shaken up, we all do. We need to be chastened, we need to be rebuked. We see it in 1 Corinthians 11, it was happening there: 'If we would judge ourselves', Paul said, 'we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord that we should not be condemned with the world'.
You see, we've got to face up to something: the church is whatever we have made it - but praise God, all was not lost. I'll tell you this: there's some people who believe that there's no point in praying for revival these days, because the Lord is coming soon and that's the way it has to be - that's a lot of nonsense! OK, there mightn't be a worldwide revival, but here - even in the last days before Christ's return - there is a commitment given by our Lord in verses 20 and 21: 'I stand', what condescension, what patience! The Lord is outside of His church, and He's trying to get in - and He's saying that if only but one member would answer to Him, what a change there might be! Oh we have programmes that are second to none, maybe premises that are palatial, but the presence of the pre-eminent One could be and often is outside the door!
There's similar imagery in the Song of Solomon chapter 5: 'I sleep', said the Shulamite, 'but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled'. Now in verse 8 we saw a door in Philadelphia that God opened for the spreading of the gospel, but this is a different door - we have to open this one! The Lord Jesus doesn't force Himself upon us. Campbell Morgan said well: 'The only cure for lukewarmness is the readmission of the excluded Christ'. There's no other answer. Now we're not talking here about union, people being saved, we're talking about communion. We're talking about fellowship with the Lord, and He says: 'Behold, I stand at the door, and knock', it might have an application in the gospel - but its interpretation is to us. 'If any man hear my voice', singular, 'and open the door, I will come in and sup', the word is 'dine', 'with them, and they with me'.
Do you know that in Palestine they had three staple meals a day? The first was breakfast, that usually was a bit of bread dipped in wine. The second was lunch, and that was only a little snack. The third was the evening meal, and that was the time when they didn't hurry it, but they spent all the time they could eating and fellowshipping with one another, and sharing and enjoying one another's company. That's what is used here: He will dine with us - a special experience of the Lord personally, where you will enter into His circumstances, and He will enter into yours in a way that others are not knowing in a day like the Laodicean age. Now that's possible, it doesn't matter what the conditions are that prevail: the Lord says it is not only possible, but inevitable, if we open the door. He says: 'I am knocking', it is in the continuous sense, 'I am knocking over again and again'. He knocks through the circumstances of our lives. He knocks through His holy word preached and read. How, child of God, is He knocking on your heart in this day of materialism and sensuality and selfishness? How has He been knocking at your door this week, this month, this year? How is He knocking at the heart door this moment as you listen to this message? Or are you indifferent to it? He is wanting to get in, He's wanting to do something in Belfast, He's wanting to do something in Ulster!
Verse 21 says that the one who answers is the one who overcomes, and they are promised that they will share the glory of Christ's throne. Now please notice there's two thrones mentioned here in verse 21: there's Christ's throne, and there's the Father's throne. Now Christ's throne and the Father's throne are not the same thing. The Father's throne is what we read of in Psalm 110 and verse 1: 'The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool', and the Lord Jesus is on the Father's throne now until He makes His enemies His footstool. But here we see that He promises the overcomer that they will sit on His throne, now that's Christ's throne - that speaks of when He will reign on the earth, when the waiting period is over. He's saying: 'If you overcome now, you will be associated with me in my earthly reign'. What a day that will be, when He comes as the Son of Abraham to claim the land of Israel, when He comes as the Son of David to claim the throne of David, and when He comes as the Son of Man to claim the whole world!
Do you realise, Christian, here and now you are training for reigning? How well are you doing? When we invite the Lord into the Supper Room, it becomes a Throne Room, and we know His communion, and ultimately we experience His victory. Last verse, 22: 'He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches'. Tirelessly, seven times, the Spirit has inspired John to write these words coming from our Lord Jesus, pleading with individual hearts in each church. We're going to see from next week on, and subsequent weeks, God's awful plans of judgement for this world - but John's message has been: judgement must begin in the house of God.
We're not going to have a closing hymn, we're going to bow our heads and pray together. We'll not be at these seven churches again, at least in this visit - have you heard what the Spirit has said to you? Lord Jesus, have Your way with Your church and with Your people, for Your glory. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tenth recording in his 'The Book Of The Revelation' series, entitled "Laodicea, The Lukewarm Church" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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