The Lukewarm church – Revelation 3:14-22

 

                The church of Laodicea was the last of the seven churches seen in the book of Revelation. It is also the worst of all the churches. It is the only church of the seven that Jesus gives absolutely nothing positive. Because of the sin of this church, they receive the greatest condemnation of all the churches. “The city was in the southwest of Phrygia, on the river Lycus, not far from Colosse, and lying between it and Philadelphia. It was destroyed by an earthquake, a.d. 62, and rebuilt by its wealthy citizens without the help of the state [Tacitus, Annals, 14.27]. This wealth (arising from the excellence of its wools) led to a self-satisfied, lukewarm state in spiritual things, as Rev 3:17 describes. The Church in latter times was apparently flourishing; for one of the councils at which the canon of Scripture was determined was held in Laodicea in a.d. 361. Hardly a Christian is now to be found on or near its site.”[1]

                The Sender. Once again, we see Jesus as the sender of the letter to the church. Notice how Jesus is described in verse 14, “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.”[2] There are three ways in which Jesus is described here. First of all, He is the Amen. This is a very unique title given to Jesus. The Hebrew word for ‘Amen’ means: ‘truth’, ‘affirmation’, or ‘certainty.’ The term is often used in scripture to affirm the truthfulness of a statement. We say ‘Amen’ in church as a way of affirming that we agree with what is being said or done. Jesus is referred to as the ‘Amen’ because He is the one who has confirmed all of God’s promises. He is the fulfillment of all things. Secondly, He is the faithful and true witness. Jesus is the ‘Amen’ or the truth because of His work and He is also the faithful and true witness, or, in other words, He is the truth because of His words. He speaks the truth. Everything that Jesus says is reliable and trustworthy. Jesus was informing the church at Laodicea that the words that He is about to speak to them can be trusted as the complete truth. Finally, Jesus is described as the beginning of the creation of God. Our English Bibles do not do this verse justice and may leave some confused. It is not saying that Jesus was created by God. Rather, that Christ is the source of creation. He is the creator. There is nothing that exists apart from Christ. He is the creator and He holds all of creation together. Jesus is showing the church at Laodicea that He has the authority to speak the truth to them because He is the creator of all things.

                The Problem. In verses 15-18 we see the problem that Jesus had with this church. “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. 17 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 by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.”[3]Jesus begins introducing the problem by mentioning that He knows their works or their deeds. John MacArthur writes, “Deeds always reveal a person’s true spiritual state, as indicated by the Lord’s words, ‘you will know them by their fruits.’ Though salvation is by God’s grace alone through faith alone, deeds confirm or deny the presence of genuine salvation. Christ knew that the Laodiceans’ deeds indicated an unbelieving church.”[4] What we have here is a church that is full of unbelievers or believers who have not really grown in their faith.

 Jesus continues by describing how they are lukewarm. As Wiersbe describes, they are lukewarm because they lost their vigor. “In the Christian life, there are three “spiritual temperatures”: a burning heart, on fire for God (Luke 24:32), a cold heart (Matt. 24:12), and a lukewarm heart (Rev. 3:16). The lukewarm Christian is comfortable, complacent, and does not realize his need. If he were cold, at least he would feel it!” [5] “The second law of thermodynamics requires that a “closed system” eventually moderates so that no more energy is being produced. Unless something is added from the outside, the system decays and dies. Without added fuel, the hot water in the boiler becomes cool; without electricity, the refrigerant in the freezer becomes warm. The church cannot be a “closed system.” Jesus said, “Without Me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). The Laodicean church was independent, self-satisfied, and secure. “We have need of nothing!” But all the while, their spiritual power had been decaying; their material wealth and glowing statistics were but shrouds hiding a rotting corpse. Their Lord was outside the church, trying to get in (Rev. 3:20).”[6]

They are also lukewarm because they had lost their values. “Laodicea was a wealthy city and a banking center. Perhaps some of the spirit of the marketplace crept into the church so that their values became twisted.” [7] The church at Laodicea was one that forgot what the church was all about. They would proudly show their budgets, financial statements, and annual reports. They were proud of the fact that they had money in the bank. They were focused on the physical rather than on the spiritual. They lost all sense of what the church is really about. They were ‘doing’ church rather than ‘being’ the church. In verses 17-18 they are encouraged to focus on the things that matter most. Jesus tells them to buy from Him the gold that is real and tried in the fire. Perhaps, Jesus was telling them that they needed to endure some persecution and be tried in the fire. The point here is that they lost their way. The church no longer resembled a true church and they needed to receive what Jesus had to offer to them.

The church of Laodicea is lukewarm also, because they lost their vision. Jesus said that He wanted to ‘anoint their eyes that they may see’.  “These people could not see themselves as they really were. Nor could they see their Lord as He stood outside the door of the church. Nor could they see the open doors of opportunity. They were so wrapped up in building their own kingdom that they had become lukewarm in their concern for a lost world.”[8] What about the church today? Have we lost our vision? Have we forgotten who we are? Are we more concerned about building a name for ourselves, rather than being the church that God has called us to be? The lukewarm church made Jesus sick. Do we make Jesus sick today?

The Solution. Thankfully, Jesus does not leave the lukewarm church without any hope. In verses 19-22, He gives them a solution. “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ”[9] Jesus mentions that He reproves and rebukes those He loves. Even though this church had lost its way, Jesus still loved them. That love is shown to them by His rebuke. You see, if you really love someone, you will not allow them to continue down a destructive path. When you love someone, you will help them to correct their faults. Jesus tells them to be ‘zealous and repent’. “Sinners ought to take the rebukes of God’s word and rod as tokens of his good-will to their souls, and should accordingly repent in good earnest, and turn to him that smites them; better are the frowns and wounds of a friend than the flattering smiles of an enemy.”[10] Anytime we are confronted with our sin, we must respond in quick repentance. We should immediately turn from that which hurts the heart of God and turn our attention toward the one who can deliver us from this mess we are in. In verse 20, Jesus is seen standing at the door and knocking. “His plea, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock,” is poignant and urgent. The verb form for knock suggests insistent, repeated pounding. Although he wants the entire congregation to open the door to fellowship with him, the individual is ultimately the one who must decide, as the singular forms indicate: anyone … him … he.”[11] Jesus desires to have sweet fellowship and communion with you and with me. So many times, we close the doors of our hearts as we are filled with our own pride and personal ambitions. We must open up to Jesus. We must allow Him to fill our lives and take control. Those who do open their heart to Jesus will be those who will overcome and will one day rule and reign with Christ.

The final verse of this chapter reminds us to take heed and listen to the message given to the churches. No doubt, there are several similarities between the churches of Asia and the church of today. May we carefully examine our lives and allow Jesus to come in and rule on the throne of our hearts.


[1] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Re 3:14). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[2] The New King James Version. (1982). (Re 3:14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] The New King James Version. (1982). (Re 3:15–17). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] MacArthur, John. Because the time is near. Moody. p. 99

[5] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 580). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[6] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 580). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[7] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 580). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[8] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 580). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Re 3:19–22). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[10] Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 2470). Peabody: Hendrickson.

[11] Easley, K. H. (1998). Revelation (Vol. 12, p. 61). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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