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; 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.
The church in the city of Laodicea is a sad specimen of a church. This is not my evaluation of this church. Christ says of her, “Thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” He has nothing good to say about this church. This church, however, did not feel the same way about herself. Her angel and members thought their church to be alive and thriving. To all outward appearances this seemed to be true too. But Christ’s assessment of her and her members is that she is spiritually dead. This is why Christ writes to this church last. Laodicea represents the church in her lowest condition—a church of Jesus Christ in name but not in truth—a false and apostate church.
The city of Laodicea lay about 150 miles directly east of Ephesus and within a few miles of Colosse. Paul was familiar with this church though he did not himself plant it. We can safely assume, therefore, that this church had existed about as long as the church in Colosse. In this letter that Christ authors through the pen of the apostle John, Christ Himself examines the works that characterized this church. Christ’s examination of her works, however, is much more thorough than any man can make. Christ not only examines the external works of this church, but He examines the internal, spiritual state of this church as well. Also, while Christ examined this church as a whole, He also looked at the hearts of her individual members. He examined her minister, officebearers, and members. As a result He could say, “I know your works. I know your spiritual condition. And this is my conclusion: ‘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).
This church was lukewarm. Good thing Christ explains this for us. We might be apt to think that the church of Laodicea was not on fire for the Lord but then she was not cold to the truth either. But Christ says to her, “I wish you were hot or cold!” We might liken what Christ says to a cup or glass of tea. We can enjoy a cup of tea when it is hot or we can enjoy a good cold glass of iced tea. But if the tea has been setting out for a time and is room temperature, it is not very enjoyable anymore. Christ goes even further and says that the lukewarmness of the church of Laodicea was repugnant and repulsive. For that reason, in disgust He would spit her out upon the ground. Mind you, He did not merely threaten her with this. Jesus writes to this church, “I will spew you out of my mouth!” Christ was not impressed by the works of this church—external nor internal.
Christ explains in verse 17, “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” The assessment this church gave of herself was glowing. “Thou sayest….” She boasted in her riches. She placed all her stock in the fact that she had increased with goods. She had a beautiful church building. She had fame and popularity in the community. She therefore trusted in herself: I have need of nothing! She felt that she attained to a certain status in this world that everyone else merely coveted after. There can be no doubt that this church prided herself not so much in the gospel as in her own self-image and the way she appeared to others.
It is striking that this description fits many different churches in modern Christianity today. Many churches of an independent nature are out to build the biggest and finest facilities. They are out to make a name for themselves in this world. They are not interested so much in the gospel they teach, though they certainly make a pretense of this. They are more interested in entertaining worship services, social programs, and hosting the largest membership in the area. No concern is expressed for the salvation of sinners, commitment to the truth, or holy living. Their claim is, “We are rich, increased with goods, and have need of nothing.”
Christ’s assessment of the church of Laodicea is this: “Thou knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” Because the leaders and membership of a spiritually dead church are devoid of the knowledge of sin, Jesus Christ, and salvation, such a church does not even know of her error. She is convinced that she is alive in the gospel. She even mocks and despises the true church of Jesus Christ in this world. But Christ says to this false church, “Without even realizing it you are wretched—lost in sin and the object of God’s anger. You are miserable—not a church to be admired, praised and followed, but pitiable. You are poor—spiritually devoid of the riches of God’s grace. You are blind—not seeing the truth of salvation nor leading others to Christ. You teach the lie in the place of the truth. You are naked—stripped of the spiritual garments of truth, holiness, and grace.” This church was guilty of false doctrine, false worship, and unholy living.
Christ’s judgment on the church of Laodicea therefore is this: I am going to spit you out of my mouth! Such a church so highly offends Christ that He will spit her out. He will cast her from His fellowship and presence. His Spirit will be removed from her offices, her pulpit, her labors, and from the hearts of those who belong to her. She may continue to exist as a church in name only, but Christ will no longer dwell in her midst. This letter must have come as quite a shock to the church of Laodicea, just as it would today in churches that fit her description. If Christ were to stand up in the midst of such a church and say what He does in this letter, the leaders and members would drive Him out in anger just as the Jewish leaders did when Christ pointed out their error.
This is why Christ describes Himself at the outset of this letter to Laodicea as the “Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God.” Christ is the Amen, that is, the end of all things to the praise and glory of God. Likewise, He is the faithful and true witness. Christ witnesses all things. He is the discerner of the thoughts and intents of a man’s heart. Everything that Christ witnessed of this church, her leaders and membership, is true and faithful. Christ does not lie about what He sees. Neither does Jesus as a mere man write these words to an apostate church. He is God. He is the Amen or end of all things, but He is also the beginning of the creation of God. Through Him and for Him all things exist. He was the Word who in the beginning is with God and is God. When He speaks every man must humble himself and hear what He has to say.
When Christ therefore counsels the spiritually dead church, what He says must be heeded and obeyed: “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” (v. 18). Christ had just informed this apostate church that she was poor, naked, and blind from a spiritual point of view. The admonition of this verse is the antidote for such a miserable and wretched condition. The apostate church must buy of Christ gold tried by fire. The riches Laodicea claimed to have as a church were impure and unholy. In the place of these polluted riches Christ commands this church to purchase from Him the true spiritual riches or blessing of salvation found in Him alone. These blessings could be purchased only by means of faith. Because she was naked and destitute of true spiritual raiment, Christ counsels her to buy white raiment, that is, the clothing of Christ’s righteousness and holiness. In this way she would be clothed in purity once again. This church must likewise anoint herself with the eye salve of faith so that she no longer would be blinded but be able to see the things of Christ’s kingdom.
With this counsel Christ instructs the apostate church in one matter: She must turn from her unbelief and cast herself before the cross of Christ in repentance. She must cast herself on the mercy of Christ that He might make her rich again, that He might clothe her, and that He might be the eye salve that makes her see. She must do this because she lacks Christ himself. Christ has departed from this church. Let that church beware who “ascribes more power and authority to herself and her ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit herself to the yoke of Christ” (Belgic Confession, Art. 29)! God is not mocked. Christ spits that church out that no longer brings the gospel truth to God’s people.
But Christ always has His faithful people too. The church prior to the Flood had corrupted itself, but there was a faithful few left—Noah and his family. Even when the entire nation of Israel had apostatized and was ripe for judgment, God still had 7,000 who did not bow the knee to Baal. So also in this spiritually dead church of Laodicea God still had His people whom He loved. To these Christ writes in verses 19, 20: “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.” Even these who yet believed had given in to what was going on in the church of Laodicea. Their faith was weak. They were not standing against the false doctrines that had overtaken their church. They too were getting sucked into the abyss of the sinful, man-centered worship and unholy living that characterized their church. So Christ rebukes them too with this letter. The scathing rebuke He writes to the church as a whole applies to them too, but it is administered to them in His love for them. If they were to continue in the ways of falsehood with the rest of the church, they too would be spit out of Christ’s mouth. Christ chastens them with these words.
Then the call to repentance: Turn from the sins of this apostate church and become zealous in the cause of the gospel once again. Humble yourselves under the hand of God and return to the truth of the gospel. This same call goes out to many today who chafe under the apostasy found in a church that has departed from the Word of God: be zealous and repent. Come out from among them.
The incentive for those whom God loves to separate from the apostasy of a false church is given in verses 20 and 21: “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.” Christ was no longer in the church of Laodicea. He stood outside of this church. For that reason, He now stands at the door of this church and knocks, calling to those whom He loves yet to seek Him in faith. They must turn from sin and earnestly call upon Him. With these He will come in and sup, that is, have fellowship with them. Understood is the fact, of course, that they could only hear the call of Christ by the Spirit who gives them an ear to hear. But upon repentance Christ will restore the fellowship they had not been experiencing as long as they fellowshipped with their apostate church. When they overcome and do the right thing as far as the cause of Christ is concerned, they will also sit with Christ in His throne.
Ah, yes, the question: how to overcome? Stand up against the sins of the church. Speak out against them in the proper, godly manner. If it does no good, then find another church that worships God in Spirit and in truth. If none is available, then the hard decision is to start up a faithful institute (again, in a proper ecclesiastical way) with others of like faith and mind with you. Then Christ will share in fellowship with you again. Someday God’s saints will then sit around the throne of Christ and share with Him in the glory that He has as the One who has overcome. He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.