The church at Laodicea stands out from among the six other churches Christ speaks of in Revelation chapters two and three because traditionally, and I believe for good reason, it represents the church in its last stage of human history. While this point can be argued one way or another, one thing is true: Christ had not one word of commendation for this particular church.
If we believe that the coming of the Lord is imminent, then we believe that we are now living in the last days. We do not put a date stamp on that statement; we simply believe that Christ is coming soon to take His church away. Until that time comes, we are here to be the Church by remaining aligned with His will and His work, being led by the Spirit of God.
Because this church so closely mirrors the mindset and character of today’s church, we should all pay very close attention to Christ’s words and warning to them. The Lord’s message to this church is a multi-faceted one, but the overarching thrust of the letter is repentance. After the Lord rebukes them severely throughout, we come to the end and see His heart; He desires for them to come back to return to Him. His words to them find their application not only in the church itself, but also to each and every believer.
The Lukewarm Church
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16).
Have you ever tasted water that was lukewarm? It tends to leave a bad taste in your mouth. It is a mixture that the Lord Himself could not stand. This condition describes a church or an individual that has lost its passion and fervor for the Lord. They have become half-hearted and indifferent to the things of God. This lack of enthusiasm has caused the Lord to vomit them out of His mouth. This backslidden condition did not happen overnight, But how did they get here?
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Pride was the culprit, and will be the reason why any person or church falls. Because of the things that they had probably done, and had reaped both materially and financially, they assumed that they had somehow received the favor of the Lord.
“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).
Their condition led Christ to unleash a stunning and stinging five-point rebuke, which was meant to reveal to them their true condition. Their ignorance was so complete that they did not even realize who they were. While they thought that they had need of nothing, the truth was that they had crossed over that imaginary, yet very real line, and had stepped into that world of shining, and proud ignorance, namely that “they didn’t know, that they didn’t know;” their pride had reached epic proportions indeed.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Ben White
Facing a Wretched Condition
When Christ refers to them being wretched, He speaks of them being beaten down and afflicted; they were suffering from the severe side effects of ongoing strain. Attempting to live the Christian life apart from the mercy and strength that is ours will take its toll on us. Here is what Christ said:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).
Why would we choose wretched over strength? Here is what we read from Isaiah the prophet:
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David” (Isaiah 55:1-3).
The Laodicean’s wretched condition could only be changed by coming to the fountain and drinking.
Christ saw their miserable condition as one that needed mercy desperately. Thank God for His mercy, for when we need it, and that is often, it is there:
“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23).
The writer of Hebrews also tells us of this great mercy:
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Photo credit: Unsplash/Milada Vigerova
God Lovingly Reveals the Church’s Spiritual Bankruptcy
All of these biting attributes were not meant to hurt or harm them; rather, they are a product of His love.
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent” (Revelation 3:19).
It was because of his love that He needed to reveal to them that they were spiritually bankrupt; they were poor in spirit—but as we said, they didn’t know it. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ spoke these familiar words:
This speaks of those who have become aware of their spiritual condition, and have realized that they are empty. The Laodiceans were not only unaware of themselves, but they were also blind and naked; they had no covering.
Christ begins His invitation and appeal to them with these words:
“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see” (Revelation 3:18).
In these verses the Lord promises to clothe them with His righteousness, and anoint their eyes causing them to see again. They had not even realized that their behavior and lowly state had driven the Lord out of their midst. We find Christ in these final verses, on the outside, seeking to come in:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20).
As stated earlier, we see in these words the heart of the Lord. He seeks fellowship with us if we would only open the door to our churches, and to our hearts, that we may enjoy the full fellowship of being with the one who saved us. We must move away the temptation to just “have church,” and seek the true fellowship with him that He desires.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Booky Buggy
Michael Jakes is an Associate Pastor, Bible teacher, and writer. He is co-founder of That’s The Word! Ministries, a distinctly Cross-centered outreach. He has also been active in youth ministry for over 30 years, and hosts four live weekly podcasts: ‘The Sunday Sermon Series’, ‘The Line By Line Podcast‘, ‘The Bible Speaks Live’, and ‘The Cutting It Right Bible Study’. Michael is also the author of, The Lights In The Windows, a book focusing on the need for the Church to evangelize. You can follow him on YouTube and on his Facebook page at: That's The Word Ministries | Facebook. Michael and his wife Eddye have been married for 40 years, and reside in New York.