The Laodicea Church
The message to the Laodicean Church begins by telling us something special about Jesus:
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. Rev. 3:1.
This message from Jesus, to the Laodicean Church, is one of the most somber in the Bible and difficult to accept. Therefore, before the message proceeds, it is established, that Jesus has the authority to give the message. Jesus is trying to establish, in people’s minds, that this difficult message must be true, because He is “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God.”
When man uses the term ‘amen’ it means; ‘let it be so.’ When Jesus uses the same term and applies it to Himself, it means; ‘it shall be so.’ Used in conjunction with ‘the faithful and true witness’ it is a double affirmation, that what He wants to tell the Laodicean Church, is not ‘fake news’ – this message is the truth.
Jesus is further described as “the beginning of the creation of God” – this does not mean that Jesus had a beginning, as some believe – the word used here for beginning is ‘arche’ – it has the meaning of ‘source’ or ‘origin’ – it is referring to the fact that Jesus is the source and origin of all creation.
Thus, taken together, these names and titles for Jesus, at the beginning of the message to the Laodiceans, are all repeating and enlarging the same point – which is – pay careful attention – this is none other than the Creator, telling you truly and faithfully, about the deplorable spiritual condition, that you as a people are in.
The Lukewarm Church
Jesus finds fault with the Laodicean Church because it is lukewarm:
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. Rev. 3:15, 16.
Being lukewarm, being neither cold nor hot, has consequences – which are – being spewed out of the Lord’s mouth. But what does it mean to be spewed out of the Lord’s mouth?
The figure of spewing out of His mouth means that He cannot offer up your prayers or your expressions of love to God. He cannot endorse your teaching of His Word, or your spiritual work in any wise. He cannot present your religious exercises with the request that grace be given you. 6T 408.
This is the most deplorable of conditions. We may be worshipping God, but God does not acknowledge it. We may be reading and teaching the Word of God, but God does not bless it. We may be praying, but God does not hear it.
Type and Anti-type
The Laodicean condition of being lukewarm, is an anti-type of types that have existed in the past. The condition of being ‘lukewarm’ has often prevailed, in the history of God’s people. The history of God’s people, throughout the Old Testament era, was a cycle of apostasy and revival and reformation. In spite of God’s pleadings and warnings, God’s people constantly slipped into apostasy, and if they were not actively worshipping false gods, they were often deceived about their own adherence to the true faith, and indifferent to the requirements of God. The situation that the prophet Malachi found, is a case in point.
Malachi was the last Old Testament prophet. He was sent by God to the Laodiceans of his time. Malachi said to the priests: “You have despised the name of the Lord.” The priests replied: “How have we despised the name of the Lord?” Malachi said to the priests: “You have defiled the altar of the Lord.” The priests replied: “How have we despised the altar of the Lord?” Malachi said to the priests: “The Lord no longer accepts your offerings, in spite of your tears and your weeping.” The priests replied: “Why does God not accept our offerings?” Malachi said to the priests: “You have wearied the Lord with your words?” The priests replied: “How have we wearied the Lord?” Malachi said to the people: “Return to God and He will return to you.” The people replied: “How should we return?” Malachi said to the people: “You are robbing God.” The people replied: “How are we robbing God?”
In other words, these Old Testament Laodiceans, simply cannot understand why God (through Malachi), has so many complaints against them. They have the temerity to question God’s assessment of their behavior and condition. They not only question it – they flatly refuse to accept it. They spurn any effort, to instruct them, about their true condition. The same applies to the Laodiceans of the last days.
The False Assurance of Salvation
The Laodiceans have been lulled into a false sense of spiritual security:
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. Rev. 3:17.
The Laodiceans have the same false security, that the Jews had. The Jews believed they were the chosen people of God, because they were the descendants Abraham and they inherited all the promises of God – they were “rich and increased with goods, and had need of nothing” – they had a false assurance of salvation.
In the same way the Laodiceans perceive themselves to be the ‘chosen’ of God – ‘rich’ in terms of spiritual privilege – superior to others in knowledge and accomplishments – the bearers of Heaven’s stamp of approval – in ‘right’ relationship with Jesus – in need of nothing. They have no need for concern because their salvation is ‘assured’ – and they will not tolerate being disabused of their ‘assurance.’ They will not question their ‘assurance,’ even when it is pointed out to them, that there is such a thing, as false assurance in the Bible:
Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Matt. 7:21-23.
There are some astonishing truths here. Firstly, these people who Jesus does not ‘know’ are astounded that they are not saved – they were sure they were saved – they had the assurance of salvation. Secondly, they are doing marvelous works in the name of the Lord, including miracles. Such ‘works’ bolsters their ‘assurance’ of salvation. But thirdly, Jesus does not just say, I don’t know you – He said I never knew you. Fourthly, the reason why, Jesus never knew these professed Christians, is because they never kept the law of God. [The last word in the text, in the Greek is ‘aporia’ translated ‘iniquity’ in the King James Bible, but a more explicit translation (and legitimate translation) is ‘lawlessness’]. Jesus does not know them and never knew them, because they do not keep the law.
However, there is another condition stated here in order to be saved – which is, the will of God. Jesus said only those who do the will of God will be saved. The will of God and the law, are of course the same. But the will of God is much broader than the law. For example, it is God’s will that we be sanctified:
That God wants us to be sanctified, makes perfect sense, because if God wants us to keep the law, we cannot do it, unless we are sanctified. Sanctification means, ‘the process of making saints’ – producing people, who keep the law and who adhere to the command: “Be holy, because I am holy” (Lev. 11:44; 1 Pet. 1:16).
When Jesus came lived as a human being on this earth, He lived His life entirely surrendered to the will of the Father (see Jn. 5:30; Matt. 26.42). Jesus is our example, we also need to surrender entirely to the will of the Father (see Phil. 2:12, 13). Privileges abound to those who surrender to the will of the Father. For example, if we want to be a part of the family of God, then we need to do the will of the Father:
For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother. Matt. 12:50.
However, the Laodiceans believe, they are already doing the will of the Father. They do not believe in ‘once saved, always saved.’ But, the false assurance of salvation provides them with a comfortable kind of ‘once saved, always saved’ mentality. They do not observe the conditions of salvation, such as, “you must be born again” (Jn. 3:7; cf. 3:3). They believe ‘born again’ simply means becoming a Christian (just as the ‘once saved, always saved’ practitioners do). The Laodiceans want to be saved without any personal struggle with self, they want to walk into heaven, just as they are, and they have invented a theology to justify what they want – but it is a false assurance theology:
The Bible does provide us with the assurance of salvation. John tells us what it is:
And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked. 1 Jn. 2:3-6.
Law and Grace
The Laodiceans cannot accept the true definition of assurance, because the true assurance of salvation comes with conditions – the chief of which is; “If we keep his commandment” – to the Laodiceans this is anathema. The Laodiceans revel in the notion that salvation is a free gift (which it is) and if that it requires no effort on our part, to secure our salvation (which is not true). We have just seen how our salvation depends on keeping the law, and surrendering to the will of the Father. The Laodiceans fail to recognise the conditions of salvation because they do not understand the relationship between the law and grace.
The Bible teaches that, we cannot be saved by keeping the law and we cannot be saved by not keeping the law – in the minds of many this apparent contradiction appears to be a mystery that cannot be solved. Therefore, they tend to emphasis one at the expense of the other. People who prefer the law will denigrate grace – people who prefer grace will denigrate the law (the latter is the stance that the Laodiceans take). What is the solution to this apparent contradiction? The solution is this; ‘We are saved, in order, to keep the law.’ Keeping the law is the evidence that we are saved. If we fail to keep the law this is the evidence that we are not saved. The Laodiceans are ‘hearers’ of the law, but not ‘doers’ of the law:
The Laodicean message applies to all who profess to keep the law of God, and yet are not doers of it. We are not to be selfish in anything. Every phase of the Christian life is to be a representation of the life of Christ. If it is not, we shall hear the terrible words, “I know you not.” Ellen White, RH Oct. 17, 1899.
Salvation has conditions – the conditions are doing the will of the Father and keeping the law. If we comply with the conditions, we have the assurance of salvation.
In spite of their condition, the Laodiceans are not left without a solution:
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. Rev. 3:18.
We are not left in doubt and we are not forced to speculate, about what these three things are, that the Laodiceans lack:
Faith is the true avenue towards a true assurance of salvation. The whole purpose of John’s gospel was to engender this faith in his readers:
But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. Jn. 20:31.
The gold is not just faith it is also love. This is because there is a close connection between them. The selfish sinful nature does not naturally produce love, but faith in Christ does:
For [if we are] in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but only faith activated and expressed and working through love. Gal. 5:6. Amplified Bible.
The white raiment is the robe of righteousness (see Isa. 61:10). It represents Christ’s perfect character, freely given to us:
This robe woven in the loom of heaven, has in it not one thread of human devising. Christ in His humanity wrought out a perfect character, and this character He offers to impart to us. COL 310.
The eye salve is the gift of discernment, so vital for God’s people, as Satan’s deceptions increase in these last days. God’s people are unaware how much they need this all-important gift:
It is a lamentable fact that God’s servants are not half as much awake to the wiles of Satan as they should be. And instead of resisting the devil that he may flee from them, many are inclined to make a compromise with the powers of darkness. 3T 196.
The world believes that Satan does not exist. The Laodiceans know enough about the Bible, so that, they cannot deny that the master of evil exists. However, they believe that, he is not doing anything – and they do not want to be told to the contrary. They have the assurance of salvation; therefore, it is not necessary to be informed about what Satan is doing.
In order to awaken the Laodiceans, to their true spiritual state, Jesus says:
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Rev. 3:19.
What does Jesus do to those He loves? Answer: He rebukes and chastens them. This is a part of the love of Christ, that is seldom discussed and even less preached about. But the fact remains, that Jesus is prepared to destroy everything, for the love of His people.
Jesus sent the King of Babylon, to Jerusalem three times to rebuke and chasten His people. Each time the Babylonians came, they did more and more damage and took more and more captives as slaves back to Babylon. But the Jews refused to believe, that it was the Lord that was doing this to them. They refused to believe the prophet Jeremiah, when he told them, that it was the Lord’s will that they surrender to the King of Babylon. Why should they surrender to a heathen king? – they were the chosen people of God – they had the assurance of salvation. Ultimately, because there was no repentance, no confession of sin, God sent the Babylonians a third time – this time they destroyed everything – because; “there was no other remedy” (see 2 Chron. 36:11-23).
Jeremiah sent a letter to the exiles in Babylon, in which He explained why God had brought this calamity upon them, what they should do in Babylon, and what God’s plans for the future were:
For I know the plans and thoughts that I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans for peace and well-being and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call on Me and you will come and pray to Me, and I will hear [your voice] and I will listen to you. Then [with a deep longing] you will seek Me and require Me [as a vital necessity] and [you will] find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ says the LORD… Jer. 29:11-14. Amplified Bible; cf. Heb. 12:5-13.
We who live in the age of the Laodicean Church, have also received ‘letters’ from the Lord, advising us as to why we are in the Laodicean condition, what we need to do about it and what God’s plans for the future are:
Today’s Laodiceans understand the concept of faith. All the promises and words of Scripture must be accepted by faith. Therefore, the only possibility to break the enthralling power of false assurance, which is so persuasive in the Laodicean Church, is for the Laodiceans to accept the message to the Laodiceans by faith – and accept it as applying directly to themselves.
Those in charge of our earthly health, recommend regular physical checkups. Those in charge of our heavenly health, also recommend regular spiritual checkups. One of the many ‘spiritual doctors’ available to us says:
Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? 2 Cor. 13:5.
Paul counsels us to examine ourselves. And why? To see if we really are living according to God’s will – to see whether we have left the faith or not. Ellen White provides us with the same counsel:
There is a necessity for close self-examination, and to closely investigate in the light of God’s word, Am I sound, or am I rotten. At heart? Am I renewed in Christ, or am I still carnal at heart, with an outside, new dress put on? Rein yourself up to the tribunal of God, and see as in the light of God if there is any secret sin, any iniquity, any idol you have not sacrificed. Pray… as you have never prayed before, that you might not be deluded by Satan’s devices; that you may not be given up to a heedless, careless, and vain spirit… MYP 83, 84.
When Jesus says to us that we are “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked”, we have two choices. We can act like the Laodiceans of Malachi’s day and say: “we don’t understand what you’re talking about.” Or, we can act like Christ’s disciples and ask: “is it I Lord?”
Is it I?
At the last supper Jesus said; “Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me” (Matt. 26:21). The record says that the disciples were “exceeding sorrowful” and they began to ask individually; “Is it I” – am I the one who will betray you. The Laodiceans, of today, need to be asking the same question of the Lord.
When we consider that Satan can appear as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14), and when we further consider how woefully equipped we are to deal with deception: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9; cf. Prov. 16:25). We should be on our guard. And when we are additionally well aware, that history does not present God’s people, as being very successful at avoiding deception and delusion – we should be doubly on our guard. And when we read how the Laodiceans are deeply deceived we need to be triply on our guard. Take a deeper look into Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles, and notice how he warns the people against the many false prophets, who were deceiving the people with an alternative narrative (false news), about the destruction and the captivity (see Jer. 29:8, 9; 21-32).
Are there people in the Laodicean Church today, preaching a false narrative? Are there people preaching a false assurance of salvation in the Laodicean Church? Is there a ‘peace and safety’ message being preached, instead of the ‘straight testimony?’ We dismiss such concerns because we consider ourselves so much ‘wiser’ than God’s people in the past. We are often amazed at how they could be so foolish and so easily deceived, when they had so much evidence of God’s love and power. But can we honestly convince ourselves that we will fare any better? Just because we can clearly see the deceptions that prevailed over the people in the past (and know how to avoid them) – does that mean that we can clearly see the deceptions that prevail in the present (and know how to avoid them?). Why does Jesus say that we need eye salve?
The Bible provides warning after warning about deception, but none of them are more comprehensive or more serious, than that which is directed at the Laodicean Church. However, there is a problem. The Laodiceans, will not, for a moment even consider that they could possibly be deceived. They feel they have “need of nothing” (Rev. 3:17). They do not need to be warned. They feel insulted when they are warned, because they “are rich” – pride will not allow them to consider that they might be wrong:
What greater deception can come upon human minds than a confidence that they are all right when they are all wrong!… The testimony, so cutting and severe, cannot be a mistake, for it is the True Witness who speaks, and His testimony must be correct. 3T 252, 253.
The Bible tells us that there is nothing new under the sun (see Eccl. 1:9) – what has been will be again. Tragically, the Laodiceans have the same attitude as the Jews. They trusted in divine favour because they were the sons of Abraham – they were the chosen people – in need of nothing – they had the assurance of salvation. They would not listen to the words of Jesus, and even the Master Himself could only save a remnant of them. The same thing will happen to the Laodicean Church:
The Way of Escape
The Laodicean condition is not hopeless. Jesus invites all Laodiceans to open the door to Him. There is a famous Harry Anderson painting of Jesus standing at the door of a house and knocking. But there is something wrong with the door – it has no door handle. The omission of the door handle is deliberate – because the door has to be opened from within – Jesus will not force his way in. So, why do the Laodicean’s not open their doors and accept the Lord’s invitation? Answer: because they have no spiritual discernment about obstacles to opening the door:
Human beings often form relationships of co-dependency – telling each other “everything will work out, everything will be fine” – when even the co-dependents themselves know it is not really true. Jesus does not practice co-dependency – people’s eternal salvation is at stake – therefore, Jesus exercises ‘tough love’- He will not white wash the spiritual condition the Laodiceans are in. But Jesus does not outline the problem without also outlining the solution. It is up to all Laodiceans, to receive the rebuke by faith, and also to receive the solution by faith.
The question remains what happens when the Laodicean does wake up, sees his spiritual condition and repents, revives and reforms. If he/she has such a revival, is the individual still a Laodicean? No, the revived Laodicean moves his/her spiritual address to the Church of Brotherly Love – Philadelphia. [This is the subject of the next chapter].