Our Lord reveals more of His divine attributes. “Amen” is a Hebrew word signifiying faithfulness and truth. It is rendered as “truth” in Isaiah 65: 16: “That he who blesseth himself in the earth shall bless himself in the God of Amen (truth).” Here the term “faithful and true witness” is placed by way of apposition. We know that Jesus Christ is true; and that whatsoever He says shall come to pass. Although we may wait long to see fulfillment of His word, we are gently reminded, and that continually, that Jesus Christ is faithful and true. Therefore, who shall stay His hand from completing that which He has begun?
Christ is also the “beginning of the creation of God.” The Sinaitic manuscript reads, “the beginning of the church of God,” and an interpretation based on this reading would be: “The Lord is the beginning of His body, the church, that is the new creation.”
Frankly, I prefer the traditional reading, and understand “creation” as encompassing and embracing the whole universe. The word “beginning” (arche) signifies the origin or cause, with an implication also of headship. Hence it means beginning in the active, and not in the passive sense. John 1: 3: “All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.” This verse has been and can be easily twisted to support Arianism and other heresies that deny the eternal co-existence of Jesus Christ and His Father–an error we must guard against.
(3: 15) “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.”
As the epistle to the Philadelphians contained no word of reproval, so this one contains no commendation. The Lord’s complaint against this church is brief and to the point. It was characterized by spiritual ambivalence; and this probably because of the wealth and self-sufficiency of its members. When we gather our treasures on earth, and not in heaven, we are apt to grow indifferent to spiritual things. This causes the heart to harden; and, even should blessings come our way, we’ll often fail to appreciate them. Yes, self-sufficiency breeds ingratitude.
(3: 16) “So then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth:”
This spiritual ambivalence threatens to be the cause of their ultimate rejection by Christ. Here we are reminded of two things– 1): that Christians exist to please their Lord and Master; and 2): that Christ will judge His visible church when He returns.
All Christians confess that there will be a judgment at the Second Advent. Yet whether this judgment will be universal or corporate is a matter of dispute. Most Pre-Millennialists hold that the visible church will be judged upon the Lord’s return; and that the unfaithful and false professors will be cast out. As intimated in chap. 1: 1 of this book, Christ’s “servants,” those to whom He addresses these words, comprise His visible church.
All visible churches are mixed bodies, and contain both wheat and tares. What Christ is telling us, and what He continually taught throughout His ministry, is that not all who say “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven (see Matt. 7: 21). Only those God-ordained trees of lively faith which He hath planted, and which bear the fruits of righteousness, will be saved in that day. All others will be thrown into hellfire. When the Master of the Vineyard comes, He will check for fruits. The fruits that please Him not will be cast aside as worthless, along with the trees that bear them.
A like figure is used in this verse. We know that warm water induces nausea in ourselves. This tells us the nature of Christ’s response to lukewarm professors. We cannot be indifferent to our spiritual states. They who remain careless about their souls now cannot really expect to have an inheritance among those saints who must enter the kingdom through “much tribulation” (Acts 14: 22).
(3: 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:”
Here the true spiritual condition of the Laodiceans is revealed. They thought that because they had abundance of this world’s goods that they needed nothing else. Their outward prosperity was the index by which they measured their spiritual state. But while they had their sight solely focused on external privileges of wealth and prestige, their inner man was languishing. Here Christ shows them the state of their inner man; disclosing to them that they have neither true goods, nor yet real riches: that they are blind (as to their own true state), naked (as to the covering of their sins), miserable (as to their eternal happiness), and poor (as to their spiritual wealth). What is to be done for such a people? Is there any balm in Gilead?
(3: 18) “I counsel of 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.”
There is something pathetic in this admonition which Christ sends the Laodiceans through John. Who knows how many had died in communion with the church before the message was sent? What was their destiny? Did they repent, but only too late? While Christ sends timely warnings to all, there are always some who die in their sins having had only Moses and the prophets to guide them (see Luke 16: 27-31). These warnings must not be taken for granted. They are extra-special revelations intended to bring repentance to the hearts of the hearers, even that godly sorrow which worketh repentance unto salvation not to be repented of (2 Cor. 7: 10).
The Lord counsels the Laodiceans to buy of Him the true spiritual riches and commodities that they are lacking. How, we ask, can one “buy” this gold tried in the fire, or white raiment, or eyesalve? Well, not with any earthly riches, but with a real and genuine faith which the Lord bestows on those whom He loves. In Isaiah we read: “Ho, everyone 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” (Isaiah 55: 1).
The church has already been told that they have not the true riches. Therefore, their worldly privileges will not afford them anything. They must agonize in their souls for the faith that saves and heals: even that faith that buys, as it were, the heavenly riches. Of course, we do not wish to be understood as if we were preaching “salvation by works.” No. We are preaching salvation by grace through faith; that faith being a gift of God (Eph. 2: 8; Heb. 12: 2), and yet instrumental to our present standing in grace. “By whom we also have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5: 2).
(3: 19) “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”
Nobody who is joined to the Lord’s assemblies is outside of His watchful eye. He pities, as Father doth His children, them that fear Him (Psalm 103: 13). Therefore, it is only meet that when His children backslide He should reprove them. Israel was God’s visible church under the legal dispensation. And yet, although some were never eternally saved, God admonished and repoved, chastised and corrected them, whenever the need arose. Under the present dispensation of grace, the church receives much the same consideration from its Divine Lord. The cause of these chastisements and temporal judgments? That we might be brought to repentance.
(3: 20) “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.”
Christ is always standing at the door of our hearts and knocking for admission. And yet how often do we hear? Christ alludes to the uncertainty of our hearing when He says, “If any man hear.” We must put off the old man if we would be made alive to the Providential messages which God sends to us every day. A heart hardened against spiritual things will ever ignore Christ’s promptings. This was the cause of lukewarmness in the church of Laodicea.
The reward of them that do hear is this: they shall receive, in all blessed assurance, heavenly communion with the Lord Himself. This present fellowship may be a token of that future time when Jesus Christ shall return and gird Himself, and make His servants to sit down to meat, and come forth to serve them (Luke 12: 37). The true antitype of the Lord’s supper will be fulfilled when faith is turned to sight.
Until then, however, we content ourselves with heavenly fellowship and communion. The Lord is standing at our hearts knocking, and only those “in the Spirit” will hear Him at the doors. Hence the necessity for laying aside the things of this world, and turning our gaze toward heaven. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3: 1-2). How can anyone with a heart turned to heaven fail to hear Christ when He knocks?
(3: 21) “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.”
The promise made to the overcomers is similar to that given the church of Thyatira. It is nothing less than conjoint rulership with Christ when He comes to set up His kingdom and make Jerusalem the “throne of the Lord” (Jeremiah 3: 17). These are Millennial promises; and there are two thrones here mentioned which must be identified in order to understand the nature of this promise. The promise is not to set us where Christ is now, at the right hand of the Father; for that is impossible; and it would be irreverent and absurd to imply that we can ever be co-equal with God.
The promise is to make us co-equal with Christ in His jurisdiction and rule over the earth. This is possible, inasmuch as Christ was the “firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8: 29), who “took upon Him the form of a servant” (Phil. 2: 7). We have no share in Christ’s divinity. But He shares our humanity, and so overcomers may attain a co-equal status with Him when He comes to reign among His saints. It was this privilege that the mother of James and John asked for her sons (Matt. 20: 20-23). Christ’s reply shows us that conjoint rule with Him is a gift of the Father, and is attained only by those who partake of Christ’s self-denial and sufferings. Compare with 1 Tim. 2: 12: “If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.” See also Matt. 19: 28; Revelation 20: 4-6.
(3: 22) “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
Thus ends the epistles to the seven churches in Asia. As mentioned, the warnings and promises given are of both an individual and corporate nature. They apply today, and will have their fulfillment when the Lord comes back to establish dominion over the whole world. Like the closing verses of the Sermon on The Mount (Matt. 7: 24-27), we are here shown the foundations on which to build to our lives–and that in a true community sense. As we, God’s people, gather together, let us not forget what we have heard, both of admonition and encouragement. These words are quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4: 12); and if we use them properly they will judge and discern our inmost thoughts. By this we will draw closer to God.