Water is pretty amazing stuff isn’t it? In its natural state we take it for granted. But when its cooled to 0 degrees centigrade it can bring an entire country to a stand still. When heated to boiling point water changes from a liquid to a gas. That is when water takes on a whole new dimension and becomes very, very powerful. Thomas Savery, the British military engineer, was the first to patent a steam engine in 1679. James Watt refined the engine and gave his name to the unit of power generated by the steam engine. A watt is apparently 1/746th of a horse power. For much of the 20th century, our entire rail transportation system was powered by steam. As a young boy I used to collect the names of the different steam trains that ran between Lowestoft and Liverpool Street, delivering fresh fish to Billingsgate Market and bringing Londoners to the sandy beaches of the Suffolk coast. Steam is still used to catapult jet aircraft from aircraft carriers. The steam catapult with pistons the length of a football pitch, can hurl a 45,000-pound plane from 0 to 165 miles per hour in two seconds.
Great power is realized when water is heated to high temperatures. But even greater power is released when Christians are on fire for Jesus. In our concluding study of the seven letters to the Churches of Revelation, the church in Laodicea has the unenviable distinction of being the only one about of which Jesus had nothing good to say. This is the sternest of the seven letters. Unlike the other churches, there is much censure and no praise.
As John Stott observes, “The church had not been infected with the poison of any special sin or error. We read neither of heretics nor of persecutors.” Jesus simply declares they are neither hot nor cold. They were half-hearted. Comfortable. Complacent. Compromised. “Perhaps none of the seven letters is more appropriate to the twentieth-century church than this. It describes vividly the respectable, sentimental, nominal, skin-deep religiosity which is so widespread among us today. Our Christianity is flabby and anemic. We appear to have taken the lukewarm bath of religion.” (John Stott)
Let us examine the message Jesus delivers to the church in Laodicea, and through her, to us. And let us discover how to raise our spiritual temperature.
- The Diagnosis Jesus Gives
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 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 3:14-16)
Laodicea’s lacked a local water supply. It had neither the cool well water of nearby Colossae nor the healing, hot water springs of Hierapolis across the Lycus valley. Water had to be piped in via an aqueduct from the Baspinar Spring five miles to the south. By the time the water arrived it was tepid–neither hot nor cold. The city’s lukewarm, mineral-laden water, was suitable only as a means to induce vomiting. Jesus uses this metaphor to describe the spiritual condition of the Church in Laodicea. Their apathy and complacency made Jesus sick.
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” (Revelation 3:15)
John Stott observes, “The Greek words are striking, and we are left in no doubt about their meaning. “Cold” means icy cold and “hot” means boiling hot.
Jesus Christ would prefer us to boil or to freeze, rather than that we should simmer down into a tasteless tepidity… our inner spiritual fire is in constant danger of dying down. It needs to be poked and fed and fanned into flame.”
Laodicea was located in the fertile lap of the Lycus Valley. As a strategic center of trade and communication, Laodicea prospered. Long before Thomas Cook, early travelers like Cicero cashed their letters of credit at Laodicea from all parts of the Roman Empire. Her wealth was so great that in AD 17, when the city was devastated by an earthquake, the people refused imperial help to rebuild the city, choosing instead to fund it entirely by themselves. But Jesus was not impressed.
“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)
Laodicea’s wealth was also derived from its black sheep. The city was renowned for the quality of its glossy soft violet black sheep’s wool. The city produced large quantities of clothing sought after across the entire Roman Empire. Jesus assessment is very sobering. They were literally black sheep. In contrast, Jesus insists they buy white clothes from him. Laodicea also hosted a renowned medical school that was world famous for the treatment of eye diseases where, according to Aristotle, “physicians prepared the Phrygian powder for the cure of ophthalmia”.
“The pride of Laodicea was infectious. Christians caught the plague. The spirit of complacency crept into the church and tainted it. Members… became smug and self-satisfied, and Jesus Christ needed bluntly to expose them. He did not mince his words.” (John Stott)
“You do not recognize you are blind… I counsel you to buy from me… salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see.” (Revelation 3:18)
How ironic, for a wealthy and self-sufficient church, Jesus describes them as blind and naked beggars. “…beggars despite their banks, blind despite the Phrygian powders of their medical school, and naked despite their clothing factories. “I need nothing”, they said. They could indeed manage without an imperial subsidy; but they could not manage without the grace of Jesus Christ.” (John Stott)
This is Jesus diagnosis of nominal, lukewarm Christians. “Morally and spiritually such a person is a naked, blind beggar. He is a beggar because he has nothing with which to purchase his forgiveness or entry into the Kingdom of God. He is naked because he has no clothes to fit him to stand before God. He is blind because he has no idea either of his spiritual poverty or of his spiritual danger…. Such is the ascended Christ’s penetrating diagnosis of our spiritual condition. Do we resist it? To contradict the diagnosis of a skilled physician is the surest road to disaster.” (John Stott)
Do you see the contrast? “I know your deeds” (Revelation 3:15), “you do not realize…” (Revelation 3:17). The Laodiceans had become proud, self-sufficient, complacent and as a result perilously and foolishly ignorant of their own condition. Do you see parallels today? John Stott writes,
“One longs today to see robust and virile men and women bringing to Jesus Christ their thoughtful and their total commitment. Jesus Christ asks for this. He even says that if we will not be hot, He would prefer us to be cold to lukewarm. Better be frigid than tepid, He implies. His meaning is not far to seek. If He is true; if He is the Son of God who died for the sins of men; if Christmas Day, Good Friday and Easter Day are more than meaningless anniversaries, then nothing less than our wholehearted commitment to Christ will do. I must put Him first in my private and public life, seeking His glory and obeying His will. Better be icy in my indifference or go into active opposition to Him than insult Him with an insipid compromise which nauseates Him!” (John Stott)
We may flatter and deceive ourselves but the Lord Jesus sees and He knows us as we really are. The diagnosis Jesus gives.
- The Counsel Jesus Provides
“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.” (Revelation 3:18)
What then is Jesus’ counsel? “I counsel you to buy from me…” (Revelation 3:18). The emphasis here is on the word “me”. Can salvation be bought? Even from Jesus?
No clearly not. Salvation is the free gift of God purchased by Christ on the cross. Jesus is using language appropriate to the commercially minded Laodiceans. Jesus likens himself to a merchant and in effect says, “I advise you to forsake your former suppliers and come and trade with me…” As the Lord says through Isaiah,
“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.” (Isaiah 55:1)
“They are poor; but Christ has gold. They are naked; but Christ has clothes. They are blind; but Christ has eye salve.
Let them no longer trust in their banks, their Phrygian eye powders and their clothing factories! Let them come to Him! He can enrich their poverty, clothe their nakedness and heal their blindness. He can open their eyes to perceive a spiritual world of which they have never dreamed. He can cover their sin and shame and make them fit to partake of the inheritance of the saints in light. He can enrich them with life and life abundant. In a word, He can save them.” (John Stott)
What then must they do? What must we do? “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.” (Revelation 3:19)
The first step is to repent. It is because Jesus loves that he rebukes and disciplines. He insists they must, and we must turn back to him. The second step is to be earnest about it. The tenses here are significant. The must repent at once and do so irrevocably, they must turn their backs on all that cools their zeal. Then let them continue always to be fired with zeal. Like the Laodiceans we must renounce complacency, compromise and self sufficiency.
“Let us spit them out of our mouths lest He spit us out of His.” (John Stott). The diagnosis Jesus makes. The counsel Jesus provides.
- The Promises Jesus Makes
“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. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:20-22)
Revelation 3:20 was one of the first verses I memorized. It features in most evangelistic presentations, along with verses like John 1:12,
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
I have no doubt the Lord has used this verse to lead millions of seekers to faith in Jesus Christ. But we do so only by taking the verse out of context. If we reserve Revelation 3:20 for leading people to Christ, we deprive countless believers of its original intention. “The Laodiceans were not unbelievers. At one time they had burnt brightly in their zeal for God, but not now.” (Ian Barclay). What can we say about Revelation 3:20?
3.1 This Promise is Universal
“If anyone…” Believers and unbelievers. You and I.
First and foremost this promise was made to Christians “let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:22). This promise was made to people who identified themselves as Christ followers, but who were in fact lukewarm and need the indwelling Christ to re-ignite their faith. This promise is made to the churches, both personal and plural, individual and corporate. It is not only or not just for unbelievers. Do you realize Jesus is saying this to you right now? He wants us to listen for his voice and invite him to indwell us consciously and continuously. You may be a Christian (as in the noun) but are you a Christ follower (as in the verb)? You may have been baptized with the Spirit of Jesus at your conversion but are you filled with His Spirit, right now, this moment, and every day? If you are unsure then listen to what Jesus is saying to you through this verse. Heed his promise to you because his promise is universal.
3.2 This Promise is Unconditional
“I will come… I will give.” The initiative is all His. He is knocking, are we listening? “We trivialize an important biblical experience if we say that to become a Christian we must simply ask Jesus into our heart.” (Ian Barclay)
Observe too, we are told Jesus is standing. This speaks of his patient love for his church.
“The verb implies that he has been standing a long time and that he is still standing there. The verb is also saying that his love and patience are things that have placed him near and readily available. We must add that his patience is persistent because he does not merely stand, he also knocks. And there is a voice that pleads belonging to the hand that knocks. The voice puts into words what a knock could never express.” (Ian Barclay)
Jesus uses the analogy of a home and a meal. In the first century, breakfast for most people consisted of bread. Lunch was a picnic eaten where ever people found themselves. But the evening meal was unhurried and food was enjoyed in the company of family and friends. Time was unlimited. Time not just for food but for building and binding relationships of trust and deepening knowledge of one another. This is the meal Jesus wants to share with us. “I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Jesus describes a two-way relationship. “He is asking the church in Laodicea to give him the opportunity to meet their need and to be their intimate and constant companion.” (Ian Barclay)
“To kneel at His table in a church sets forth publicly our private supping with Him in our hearts. And both the inward feast and the sacramental supper are a foretaste of that heavenly banquet which in the Book of Revelation is called “the marriage feat of the Lamb”. But it is not merely for supper that Christ enters the human soul. It is also to exercise sovereignty. If he comes to bestow his salvation, He comes in also to receive our submission. His entry is an occupation. He comes in to take control. No room may be locked against Him… He is the master of the house. This is what it means to be committed to Christ, and to be wholehearted in our allegiance to Him. It is to surrender without terms to His lordship.” (John Stott)
This promise is universal. It is unconditional.
3.3 This Promise is Unending
“To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Revelation 3:21)
“A throne is the symbol of conquest and authority… As Christ conquered the world and the devil, and was exalted to the father’s right hand, so the Christian conqueror shall be honoured also. As Christ shares the father’s throne, so the Christian will share Christ’s. exactly what authority will be entrusted… is not disclosed, but in some way [we] will be given responsibility in the Kingdom of heaven.
If we let Christ enter the house of our heart, He will let us enter the house of His Father. Further, if we allow Christ to sit with us at our table, He will allow us to sit with Him on His throne. Here then is the great alternative which confronts every thoughtful person. To be halfhearted, complacent and only casually interested in the things of God is to prove oneself not a Christian at all and to be so distasteful to Christ as to be in danger of his vehement rejection. But to be wholehearted in one’s devotion to Christ, having opened the door and submitted without reserve to Him, is to be given the privilege both of supping with Him on earth and of reigning with Him in heaven. Here is the choice we cannot avoid. We must either throw the door open to Him or keep it closed in His face.” (John Stott)
In this passionate love letter we have discovered: The diagnosis Jesus makes. The counsel Jesus provides. The promise Jesus makes.
And we have realized that this diagnosis, this counsel and this promise was first made first to the churches, secondly to everyone, but thirdly and most significantly, it was written down so that you and I could hear what Jesus is saying to us also. Please bow your heads with me for a moment. What is the temperature outside today? Somewhere between freezing and boiling. What about the temperature inside? When you came into the building this evening, did you notice a change of temperature? What was your spiritual temperature? You don’t have to exaggerate or beat yourself up. Just give yourself a number. Where are you? Were you at 100 degrees, 80, 60, 40, 20, 10, 0, -10, -20? Hot? Lukewarm? Or suffering hypothermia? What temperature do you want to be? At what temperature do you want to be right now? as you leave church? and by God’s grace tomorrow? this coming week? for the rest of your life? What is Jesus saying about you? for you? to you, tonight? Listen to Jesus one more time.
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 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 him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Revelation 3:19-21)
Ian Barclay, “What Jesus thinks about the Church” (Kingsway, 1968)
John Stott, “What Christ Thinks of the Church” (Lutterworth Press, 1958)
Stephen Travis, “The Church under Fire” (BRF, 1995)