Laodicea: Christ's Urgent Counsel to a Lukewarm Church (Revelation Sermon 8 of 49)
April 30, 2017 | Andrew Davis
Introduction: Treatise on Religious Affections
Please turn in your Bibles to Revelation 3:14-22. This is the last of the letters from Christ to the seven churches. I have said with each letter we have studied, but this applies particularly with this letter to the church at Laodicea: We should all come, individually and corporately, with a sense of fear and trembling. This is arguably the worst-off of the seven churches in Revelation — the lukewarm church of Laodicea; this letter terrifies me the most as pastor of this church.
Many godly leaders say that there is a spiritual disease, a contagious blight that is working its way through or spreading its way through the Lord's orchard of the churches in America. They say that the Laodicean church captures what has happened to so many churches in the West and in America. John Stott in commenting on this, puts it this way: “Perhaps none of the seven letters is more appropriate to the 20th- [and 21st-] century church than this one. 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 a lukewarm bath of religion.”
The dread disease that Christ diagnoses this church with is nominalism, lukewarmness, a tepid pattern of religion in which outward forms are maintained without any real power. They were going through the motions, checking the “God” box through outward observances, while denying the life-changing, transforming power that genuine faith in Christ produces.
The cause in Laodicea of their lukewarmness — the most terrifying aspect of this letter for me — is linked to their wealth, their prosperity. The result is spiritual complacency. The lukewarmness of the church at Laodicea was nauseating to Christ. What He has to say to them should terrify us out of any spiritual complacency in our lives; it should make us cry out to God against ourselves, to plead with God to save us from Laodicean lukewarmness.
Jonathan Edwards wrote many great theological works, but none has affected me so profoundly as his classic Treatise on Religious Affections, which he wrote in defense of the powerful effects of the First Great Awakening, a revival of religion during the mid 18th-century, from its cultured critics. Whitfield, Tennant, Edwards and other preachers were preaching the fiery Gospel of the new birth, which was yielding conversions with outward, visible manifestations, physical effects of the preaching and the ministry of the Word on sinners who were being moved and affected by what they were hearing. These signs included outcries of overwhelming, bitter sorrow over sin, terror at the coming wrath of God, and shouts of soaring joy over assurance of salvation with genuine forgiveness and a right relationship with God. These critics were mostly cultured, aristocratic church leaders who denigrated the public display of “enthusiasm” and emotion, which they considered to be a negative thing. The critics had likely never experienced any of this before, and they stood on the outside bitterly criticizing the preachers of the Awakening for what they deemed excesses.
Treatise on Religious Affections bears a powerful, timeless connection with Christ’s nausea over Laodicean lukewarmness. Edwards wrote this: “True Christianity consists in a great measure in vigorous and lively actings of the inclination and will of the soul or the fervent exercises of the heart.” True Christianity is lively and fervent. “That religion which God requires and will accept does not consist in weak, dull, and lifeless wishes, raising us but a little above a state of indifference: God, in His Word, greatly insists upon it, that we be good in earnest, ‘fervent in spirit’, and our hearts vigorously engaged in religion. Romans 12:11, ‘Never be lacking in zeal, but be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.’ If we are not in good earnest in religion, and our wills and inclinations be not strongly exercised, we are nothing. The things of religion are so great, that there can be no suitableness in the exercises of our hearts, to their nature and importance, unless they be lively and powerful. In nothing is vigor and in the actings of our inclination so requisite, as in religion. And in nothing is lukewarmness so odious [that is, hateful]. True religion is evermore a powerful thing; and the power of it appears, in the first place in the inward exercises of it in the human heart.”
Thus Edwards felt, in preaching that he should do everything he could to raise the affections — the love and passion — of his hearers as high as he possibly could concerning these things. In a sermon on Song of Solomon 5:1, which says “Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love!” he preached, as many commentators do, beyond marital relations, into the spiritual realm of Christ and His church to illustrate passion for God. He drew the following doctrinal conclusion: “Persons need not and ought not to set any bounds to their spiritual and gracious appetites.” In other words, there is no such thing as spiritual gluttony. “Eat, and drink, and be drunk with love for God, dear friends.” He admonished his hearers not to set limits or boundaries to their appetites when it came to Christ. “Rather, they ought to be endeavoring by all possible ways to inflame their desires and to obtain more spiritual pleasures… Our hungerings and thirstings after God and Jesus Christ and after holiness can’t be too great for the value of these things, for they are of infinite value… [Therefore] endeavor to promote spiritual appetites by laying yourself in the way of allurement…” What an interesting statement: Put your heart in the path of enticement. If you are feeling distant and cold, be allured, be enticed. “There is no such thing as excess in our taking of this spiritual food. There is no such virtue as moderation in spiritual feasting.”
This morning, I will challenge you to feed your zeal and your appetite for Christ. Feed the fire, brothers and sisters. In a nutshell, the Laodicean lukewarmness caused by prosperity and spiritual complacency is deadly. It should make us tremble at the affluence and comfort of our American lifestyle.
We will be looking at the final letter of Christ to the seven churches. With God’s help, we trust that the Lord Jesus will work this warning into us, and that we will heed His warning, His counsel, and obey His commands and drink in both now and for eternity the sweet rewards that He promises.
First, let us review our context of the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation. This sets the stage for the entire book. In Revelation 1, the apostle John, in exile in the island of Patmos, has a vision on the Lord’s Day of the resurrected, glorified Christ, dressed like a high priest in a white robe reaching down to His feet. He is moving among seven golden lampstands, which are probably about like floor lamps, about chest-high. He is trimming the wicks, working on the fires, symbolizing Christ tending the seven golden lampstands, which represent seven literal, physical local churches that existed at that time in Asia Minor. The number seven is the number of perfection and gives us a sense of Jesus’ active daily ministry in local churches all over the world; He cares about local churches and He is ministering as our great high priest.
How Christ Describes Himself: Amen, Faithful, True, Creator
How to Read these Letters
In Revelation 2 and 3, He composes seven literal letters, one to each of those seven churches, but cumulatively, they speak a message to all churches worldwide in the 20 centuries that have followed. At the end of each one of the seven letters, He says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” We are meant to take in the cumulative effect of these seven letters, to heed the warnings, to drink them in as a healing tonic. Jesus spoke these words twenty centuries ago to a specific church in Laodicea at a specific moment in time, but through the Spirit and by the ministry of the Word, He speaks now to us. As it says in Hebrews 3:7-8, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts…” “He who has an ear, let him hear.”
We must approach these seven letters, especially to this seventh letter, with great humility. Christ gives us grace so that we can humbly take in the stern word of warning contained in this letter. James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Isaiah 66:2 says, “This is the one I esteem, he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and who trembles at My Word.” This word should make us tremble. Woe to any of us who say, “Spiritual lukewarmness could never happen to me,” or “First Baptist Durham could never become a Laodicean church.” Woe to us! We are well on our way to becoming so if we say that. We have the same sin nature they did. We are under the same pressures they were. We have the same challenges facing us. We should read with an ear to hear ways we need to grow in grace, ways that we are weak, and ways that we are sinning and deficient. Even if the Lord would speak a word of encouragement to us, we would hear it honestly as a word of exhortation, not as a point over which to puff up with pride: “You are doing this good thing, and I urge you to do it more and more.” Let us each humbly pray in our hearts, “Oh, God, speak to me.”
In many ways, this letter to the church at Laodicea is the most terrifying of them all. Christ speaks not a single word of encouragement to this church, not one good about them at all. John MacArthur points to evidence in verse 20, depending on how you read it, that there was not a single born-again person within the walls of the church; Jesus was on the outside of the church, looking for someone, anyone who might open the door. If that is true, it was a very bad situation for that church.
How does the resurrected, glorified Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest who was ministering to the seven churches, describe Himself in this final letter? Look at verse 14. He says, “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.’” (Some translations read “the source of God’s creation.”)
First, He calls himself “the Amen.” We speak this word at the end of all of our prayers, maybe even thoughtlessly, as though it is simply the word used to let the people around you know that you are finished praying. The word is related to the Hebrew word for “standing,” but it came to be connected more with “truth.” In Deuteronomy 27, when the blessings and curses of the Old Covenant were read, the people were supposed to say “Amen” at the end of each one. It is a Hebrew word which translates to “Truly, truly” (or “Verily, verily, I say unto you” in the King James).
As New Testament believers, we say “Amen” to give assent to a powerful truth. At the beginning of this book of Revelation, we see this very word: “‘Look, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of Him.’ [And John mixes in,] So shall it be! Amen.” In other words, “I want that [Second Coming] to happen soon.”
Then at the end of the book, in Revelation 22:20, we get the same message: “He who testifies to these things [Jesus] says, ‘Yes I am coming soon.’ [Then John says,] “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” In the final verse of the entire Bible, Revelation 22:21, John says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.” Now you know — the last word in the Bible is “Amen.”
Jesus, who is God’s Amen, is God’s final word to the human race, the word of truth. Jesus speaks only the truth, for He is the truth. He says in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life…” Beyond that, Jesus is effectively the Amen that God speaks to all of the promises and all of the truth of the Old Covenant. 2 Corinthians 1:20 says, “For all the promises of God in Him are yes, and in Him Amen.” In Christ, all the promises of God find their fulfillment. In effect, Jesus is saying “Amen” for us to all the promises of God.
The Faithful and True Witness
Jesus says He is the faithful and true witness. Everything He says is true; it is dependable and accurate. He testifies to His churches what is true, and we must hear Him as He speaks. He is also faithful, first and foremost vertically to God, His Father. He was faithful in everything God entrusted to Him. He is faithful to God, but also faithful to us: He will always testify solemnly to what we most need to hear. He loves us. He is our faithful high priest.
The Beginning of the Creation of God
Furthermore, He is the beginning of the creation of God. This phrase causes trouble for some because it seems to say that Christ is a created being. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have run with that false doctrine for a long time, that Jesus is the first of God’s creations. “There was when He was not — there was a time He did not exist, and then God created Him.” That is a heresy. That is not what this phrase means. Jesus is calling Himself the originator, or the source, of all of God’s creation. Paul makes this clear in Colossians 1:15-17, “He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” He is the source of everything.
Application: Cure from Lukewarmness Comes from Right Estimation of Christ
I want to stop for a moment to give you an application as we are talking about lukewarmness. Lukewarmness is cured by drinking in the greatness of the person of Christ. We greatly underestimate His greatness and would do well to give ourselves a daily boost of the knowledge of Him. Picture what it must have been like in the upper room with the apostles when Jesus came in through the locked doors. Picture him showing His hands and His side, His nail marks, and saying, “Peace be with you.” How could you possibly be indifferent and lukewarm at that moment? The more you just drink in the person and the achievements of Christ, the more that lukewarmness is banished. The central cause is failing to esteem Christ, your Savior, as the radiant, majestic Lord of the universe; failing to see His beauty, His glory, His attributes, His person high above the heavens; failing to see Him as the source of all creation. The remedy must be to read these words and let them soak in to you. Savor His glory based on His word. Rescue from lukewarmness comes from Christ-centeredness. Seek Him.
How Christ Diagnoses the Church: Lukewarm, Poor, Blind, Naked
Jesus is about to give His church a clear diagnosis and prescribe a powerful therapy. What is the diagnosis? He says they are “lukewarm … [and therefore] wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.”
The Church at Laodicea
Geographically, Laodicea was close to Colosse, to whom Paul wrote the letter of Colossians. It was located in the Lycus Valley, about one hundred miles east of Ephesus. It was the southernmost of the seven churches, about 40 miles from Philadelphia. Laodicea was almost impregnable against direct assault because it was built on a wide plateau several hundred feet above the valley floor. However, because it had to pipe in the water for the city by aqueducts from several miles away, it was vulnerable to siege; invaders could easily sever the water supply.
Three aspects of the Laodicean economy were noteworthy: money, wool, and eye medicine. First, money: Laodicea was strategically located in terms of commerce and trade. It stood at the junction of two important highways. There was an east-west road leading from Ephesus to the interior of Asia Minor, and then there was a north-south road going from Pergamum down to the Mediterranean Sea; those two roads crossed there at Laodicea. It was a powerful, wealthy center of finance, banking and commerce. It was so wealthy that when the earthquake I have mentioned before hit, and Rome offered to help rebuild Laodicea, they rejected the offer; they had no need to accept money from Rome. They possessed the means to rebuild the city with their own resources.
Second, wool: Laodicea was famous for soft, glossy, black wool, which was woven into carpets and used for luxurious black clothing. This was a significant source of revenue.
Third, eye ointment or salve: Laodicea supplied a Phrygian ointment that was known throughout the Roman world. It was useful in curing certain eye diseases; people came from all over the world to get the eye treatment, and it was also exported all over the Roman world.
These three industries — finance, wool, and eye salve — will come directly into play in Christ’s stern words to this church.
Christ says in His diagnosis in verses 15-17: “I know your deeds, that you are neither hot nor cold. 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. 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.” So He begins with the statement, “I know your deeds.” He is going to talk about their heart condition of lukewarmness, but starts with their deeds. This is a regular pattern: “By their fruit, you will know them.” Matthew 12:33: “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.” Their deeds truly expose their heart.
What is this lukewarmness all about? The word “nominalism” keeps coming to mind. What is the essence of nominalism? It is assenting to the right doctrine, Orthodox Christianity — “Yes, yes, yes, that is all true” — but without corresponding heart passion stirring them to sacrificial action. Jesus actually starts with the actions. He says, “I know your deeds…” “I see what you do. You are lukewarm.” He says, “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.”
Some scholars and preachers interpret this in the context of the experience that all Laodiceans would have had with their water coming from miles away. Some nearby towns had hot steam baths, and others might have had cold water as from a mountain stream. The water in Laodicea was not good for refreshment or bathing. It most likely would have been tepid, foul-smelling, cloudy and repulsive. I heard of a South Carolina preacher who likens it to preferences of tea temperature, as though Christ were speaking in terms of beverage preference, saying that anything except lukewarm would be acceptable: “Some love hot tea. Some prefer sweet tea. I like cold tea. No one wants lukewarm tea.” I will not go in that direction, friends; it is best not to push it to that extreme, as though Christ were saying “Hot water is good, and cold water is good… but lukewarm water is useless.” He is not talking about different beverages like wine and milk and water, as in Isaiah 55.
Rather, Jesus is speaking metaphorically, as He did with His parables. What is the essence of the temperature, of hot, lukewarm, and cold? I believe heat refers to zeal, passion, fire, ardor, love for the Lord. How can I, as a pastor, exhort you to cold for Jesus? If you came to me saying, “Pastor, I want to be cold and refreshing for Jesus, what should I do?” I would exhort you to love Him with all your heart. But that sounds like passion — like heat.
Scripture, overall, supports heat as that which pleases God. God is passionate, so the strong emotions ascribed to him appear as heat — His wrath or anger as well as His motivation, His zeal. A human example would be the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. In Luke 24:32, Jesus opened the Scriptures up to their hearts and minds. After He left, “They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’” Jesus says of John the Baptist in John 5:35, “He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.” It is said of Jesus in Psalm 69:9, “…zeal for your house consumes me [has burned Me up].” Romans 12:11, which we've already quoted, urges us: “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”
Conversely, coldness is generally handled in Scripture as a negative condition, including, I believe, in our passage. We see a clear example of this in Matthew 24:12. Jesus was speaking about the end times, saying, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.” So how can I exhort you to grow cold? I will not do that.
Then why is it better to be cold than lukewarm? My thought is this: a cold person is dead in his transgressions and sins, unconverted, perhaps has never heard the Gospel; he is on the outside, cold and dead, like a corpse. This is better than being lukewarm because a spiritually cold person makes no pretense at all to follow Christ. He knows he is on the outside. But in that state, he is easier to reach for Christ than someone who has heard the great things of God and responded with a lukewarm, nominal commitment to Christ, with its requisite ritual church attendance on Christmas and Easter, or even the habits of baptism and church-membership with no true godliness that are common in the Bible Belt. There have been many revivals over the years, resulting in many churches increasing greatly in membership and many others being planted; but at some point, people start going through the motions of evangelical Christianity without real power. Thus, this is a warning for all of us.
In a parallel verse, 2 Peter 2:21, Peter talks about people who employ a self-indulgent, grace-as-license type of Christianity under false teachers. They are feasting and reveling and getting drunk and acting sexually immoral, and Peter admonishes them that such license is not the Gospel. “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit,’ and ‘A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.’” The Gospel did not change them but now they were in real trouble since they heard the true Gospel, which had no effect on them. It would have been better if they had never heard it than to conduct themselves in such a manner.
I see the same reasoning here — it is better to be cold than lukewarm. John MacArthur says this: “Smug, self-righteous hypocrites are far more difficult to reach with the Gospel than cold-hearted rejecters. The rejecters may at least be shown that they are lost. But those who self-righteously think they are saved are often protective of their religious feelings and unwilling to recognize their real condition. They are not cold enough to feel the bitter sting of their sin. Consequently, no one is further from the truth than the one who makes an idle profession of Christ but never experiences genuine, saving faith. No one is harder to reach than a false Christian.”
Christ found the Laodicean church nauseating, saying he would vomit them out of His mouth. The Greek is like the word for “emetic.” “So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to [vomit] you out of my mouth.” Nominal Christianity, then, is utterly repulsive to Christ.
Their Self-Assessment is Totally Wrong!
In verse 17, He speaks to their self-assessment, which is completely wrong. This is where they put themselves in danger. They evaluate themselves by comparing themselves to the churches and individuals around them, saying, “That is not me — I am fine.” Verse 17 says, “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.”
The Cause of Spiritual Lethargy: Their Material Wealth
The cause of their spiritual lethargy was their material wealth. They lived in a wealthy city, and they were wealthy people. That wealth had made them complacent and self-sufficient. Any biblical Christian should react to their statement of self-sufficiency by recoiling with horror. They are saying, “I do not need anything from Jesus.” Imagine yourself saying that; it is appalling, isn’t it? The proverb says, “The wealth of the wealthy is like a strong tower, and in it, they imagine they are safe.” They have a sense of safety or security in their wealth.
But they forget another image that Jesus provided. In John 15:5, He says, “I am the vine; you are the branches… If [you] remain in Me… [you] will bear much fruit; apart from Me, you can do nothing.” The more you vigorously we grow into spiritual maturity, the more we will feel acutely just how needy we are, unable to carry out one iota of obedience without His help. “I cannot do anything today without Jesus. He must be in the center of my day, of my life. The only thing I can do apart from Jesus is sin. I do not want to sin! I want to be close.” If we are to do anything that the Lord delights in, we must abide in Christ. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. But here, these Laodiceans are congratulating themselves, saying, “I am wealthy. I do not need anything.” They are self-reliant. This is a great danger in America as well, with overwhelming prosperity such as the Christian world has never seen in history. Wealth among evangelical people is at an unprecedented, widespread level in church history, and it is dangerous state to be in.
Their Real Condition:
Instead, the “Amen, the faithful and true witness” was preparing to deliver the truth, as a physician would a patient, saying, “I have the results of your tests and you need to know your condition. You may feel fine, but you do not realize that…” and then come the words that render the diagnosis. Only a fool would not listen to such a diagnosis. What does He say? “You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” How terrifying, to have one’s self-assessment be so different from the Lord’s.
I do not think you can say those words over genuinely born-again people. First of all, they are wretched and pitiful. They are not to be envied but pitied, spiritually like a homeless beggar shivering out in a blizzard. They are poor, impoverished though materially wealthy. They are in the exact opposite position of the persecuted church at Smyrna, who were poor from having much of their material possessions confiscated. But Jesus said to them in Revelation 2:9, “I know your poverty, yet you are rich!” The Laodiceans are blind in spirit, they're unable to see the truth to understand who Christ really is. Faith is the eyesight of the soul. They do not see the invisible spiritual realms properly. And finally, they are naked, shameful in their sin patterns, in need of covering, of an atonement.
How Christ Counsels the Church: Come to Me and Buy
Amazing: The Lord of Heaven and Earth Gives Advice
Christ — the Lord of heaven and earth, God the Son — could have simply shut down this lukewarm church and disposed of them on Judgment Day. Instead, he humbles himself to give them sound advice. “I counsel you…” Amazing! This is Jesus, exalted to the highest place by Almighty God, sitting on the right hand of the throne of God, perfect in wisdom, awesome in holiness, saying, “Let me give you some advice.”
Buy FROM ME…
What is the advice? “Come to me and buy what I am offering.” Jesus was the source of everything that they needed. They greatly underestimated Christ, paying Him lip service, lukewarm worship, token prayers. It was time they understood their poverty and Christ’s riches, which He would supply. They needed to put to death forever this repugnant self-reliance, and understand that He is the vine, that apart from Him, they were dead.
Why did He say to these destitute, spiritually empty beggars — “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked,” — that they should come to Him and buy from Him? What currency would they use? This same idea is expressed in Isaiah 55:1: “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.” The currency is the same in that passage: total emptiness, inability to do anything of eternal value apart from Christ. They were to bring that and say, “Here is my money — my emptiness. I am poor. Save me — help me — heal me.” That is how you buy from Jesus when you have nothing. It is not a small thing; most people are not willing to look at their resources, at their lives and conclude, “I really am poor, I really have nothing to offer and no ability to do any good thing in and of myself.”
Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount with these words in Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit [spiritual beggars — in Greek, “ptóchos,” meaning ‘have nothing’] — for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Bring this currency to Jesus and humbly lay it at His feet, He says “Buy, I will give you everything you need.”
What Should they Buy from Christ?
Verse 18 says, “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.”
First, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by the fire, so you can become rich…” This is like the treasure hidden in the field, worth selling everything to obtain. This is the genuine spiritual wealth of salvation in Christ, the wealth of heavenly joy, the Kingdom of Heaven. “I will give you real gold which will last for all eternity — gold that was refined by the fire of my suffering on the cross, the free gift of wealth in Me. You will be rich.”
Second, He counseled them to bring their nothingness, their nakedness, to Him. In return, He promised to clothe them with “…white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness…” This is a symbol of atonement, of the imputed righteousness of Jesus, given as a gift by faith in Christ. He perfectly obeyed the laws of God; you did not. In doing so, He wove a beautiful white robe of righteousness for the purpose of clothing our nakedness with it. On Judgment Day, we will stand in that righteousness and be truly righteous before God because of it.
Third, He counseled them to buy “…salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” He is speaking of the gift of the eyesight of the soul, spiritual sight, which is genuine faith — the ability to see the spiritual world as it really is, things in the spiritual realm that they had never seen before. “I counsel you to bring your blindness and I will touch your eyes,” — like the man born blind in John 9. “I will touch your eyes and you will be able to see. You will behold the glory and holiness of God; God the King sitting on His throne; Me sitting at the right hand of God, interceding for you; your shameful condition as it really is; Me on the cross, having atoned for your sins; the empty tomb and My bodily resurrection; the coming wrath of God as it will be; your future glory of walking in the new heavens and earth; the present world and its terrible status under Satan’s dominion; people enslaved in sin. For the first time, you will see things as they truly are. You will see and flee to Christ; you will turn from darkness to light, and from lies to the truth.” Christ alone can give all these things.
John Stott said, “Here is welcome news for blind beggars! 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 clothing factories, and their Phrygian eye ointment! Let them come to Him! He alone 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 their shame and make them fit to partake of the inheritance of saints in the kingdom of light. In a word, He can save them!”
Christ’s Loving Discipline
Verse 19 is a timeless word to all genuine believers and to every church: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.” Christ cherishes us as genuinely born-again people, too much to let us wander off. Hold on to this truth, because we all have lukewarm days, perhaps even weeks. But if Christ is active in our lives, He will come after us, draw us back to Him; He will rebuke and discipline us if we drift into this kind of coldness. Though it is a stern word of warning, it is truly a comfort to those who love Him. It proves that we are genuine children, sons and daughters of God. He will speak in a way to get our attention, sternly, perhaps even harshly, when we are sinning. He will not give us over.
Christ’s Clear Command “Be earnest and repent”
True children of God will inevitably take these warnings to heart and repent. Christ calls on this church, “Be earnest and repent.” In terms of temperature, “Be on fire and repent. Get some fire inside of you; stop being tepid, lukewarm and weak in thought, word and deed. Get serious about what is happening and repent.” “Repent” means to turn away from all these old patterns, away from the sin, to see it for what it really is, grieve over it, feel ashamed of it. Moreover, it means to come to the light, on the path toward a vigorous walk with Christ. Remember the process that Thomas Watson outlined, which we covered in the sermon on the letter to the church of Thyatira: Sight of sin; sorrow for sin; hatred of sin; shame for sin; confession of sin; and turning from sin.
What Christ Promises Those Who Open the Door: Fellowship and Feasting
The Most Famous Verse in the Seven Letters
To those who open the door, Christ promises fellowship and feasting. Look at verse 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.” This verse is frequently connected with evangelistic tracts. When I was a new Christian, I was trained by Campus Crusade for Christ to share my faith using a tract called The Four Spiritual Laws. Revelation 3:20 is one of the first verses I ever heard in my life and one of the first I memorized. In the Campus Crusade outline, those evangelizing would first go through the foundational doctrine of “God, man, Christ, response.” Then this verse is used to seal the deal: Jesus is here saying, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. It is the door of your heart and He wants to come in. If you will get up and open the door, He will come and live with you forever.”
While this use of that verse is valid — ultimately, every individual person needs to have this kind of personal relationship of fellowship and intimacy with Christ — we must be careful not to push it into doctrinal error, implying that only we can open the door, that there is no means for Jesus to open it from His side. No, if we respond by opening the door, it is the Holy Spirit who moves our spirit and body to open the door; we can never get ahead of the Holy Spirit. He has made you born again so that you hear His voice and you get up. The Spirit is involved in that action; that is what regeneration is all about. Use this verse in evangelism, but use it correctly.
Hearing His Voice
The essence is the hearing of faith, “He who has an ear, let him hear…” If you are not yet a believer, perhaps you are hearing the knocking, hearing His voice speaking to you from the words of Scripture, personally calling you to follow Him. You know He is outside of your heart. If you hear Him knocking, know that it is a hearing power that only the Holy Spirit can give; only the Holy Spirit can cause you to open that door and let Jesus in.
Open the Door to Him
Therefore, open the door. There is an openness to faith, a desire to be open to Christ, to have Him enter and live within you. Christ said to the church of Philadelphia, “Behold, I have set before you an open door which no one can shut.” But human tendency is to set before Jesus a closed door and challenge Him to pry it open. No — open the door to Him. It is a heart response of love, of seeing that He is worthy of loving above all else, which should cause us not to challenge but to embrace what He is offering.
Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “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. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” The yoke is His kingly authority. Our response, our desire to open the door, to invite Him in, indicates that we desire for King Jesus to come in and rule our lives; we submit to His kingly authority, His just and loving rule; we declare our loyalty to Him. We are open to whatever he would do with us.
The Promise: I will Come In to Him and Eat with Him and He with Me
Jesus uses an image here of feasting: those who open the door will sit at table with Jesus. He belabors the point somewhat: “I will come in and eat with him — and by the way, he will also eat with Me.” That seems redundant at first glance. The repetition is intensive: He wants to feast with you, to sit at table with you; He desires your fellowship as much as we should desire His.
In the ancient Near East, to sit at a table with someone implied intimate fellowship and friendship, like a covenant signified by breaking bread together. Jesus repeatedly enjoyed intimate times with His disciples around the table. John 1:35-39 says, “The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God!’ When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, ‘What do you want?’ They said, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ ‘Come,’ he replied, ‘and you will see.’ So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.”
The inclusion of this account is puzzling. John kept out almost every one of Jesus’ miracle stories — he included seven miracles and seven extended teachings. How did this account make the cut? One scholar posited that the apostle John was one of those two disciples, and that was the first time he ever heard Jesus speak. It was the first time he had Jesus look at him, and they shared a meal together. Though he does not mention himself by name in the whole gospel, He includes many of his own significant moments with Jesus, His Lord and Savior. In John 13:23, we read that at the Last Supper, the disciple “whom Jesus loved” was leaning against Jesus’ breast so as to feast with His Lord sitting as close as possible to Him. What a picture. Are you experiencing that kind of intimacy of fellowship with Christ?
We can experience it now by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. In John 14:16-17, Jesus said, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you.” When you open the door of your soul to invite Jesus to come in by the Spirit, you can feast with Him now in a foretaste of a feasting all believers will experience for eternity in Heaven.
Fellowship with Jesus… and with God
Our fellowship is not only with Jesus the Son and with the Holy Spirit, but also with the Father. 1 John 1:3 says, “…our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.” We have fellowship with the triune God.
How Christ Rewards Those Who Overcome: Enthronement
In Every Case, Jesus Has Promised Lavish Rewards to the One Who Overcomes
How does Christ reward those who overcome? Verse 21 says, “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.” He who overcomes, who fights the good fight of faith against the world, the flesh and the devil, will receive lavish praises and rewards. I like to go through the seven letters and collect in one place all of the rewards given to him who overcomes; I meditate on this list and marvel that we will receive them all. These are not only for the Ephesian or the Smyrnan or the Sardis overcomers. We are also the overcomers; we are also more than conquers.
We will eat from the Tree of Life. We will receive a crown of life; protection from the second death; the hidden manna; a White Stone with a new name written on it; the authority to rule the nations; the morning star; white garments; the honor of having Christ confess our name before God the Father and the Holy Angels in Heaven. We will be made a pillar in the temple and will never leave it. We will have written on us the name of God, and the name of the new Jerusalem, and the name of Christ.
What reward here? Ruling with Christ on his throne
In the letter to the church at Laodicea, we see that we will reign with Christ on His throne. We will sit with Him on His throne, just as He overcame and sat down with His Father on His throne. John Piper gives us a rather awkward but appropriate and amazing image: We are in Jesus’ lap, and He is in His Father’s lap, running the universe. Christ is the King of kings and Lord of lords, and He will reign forever and ever in the New Jerusalem. The conquerors will rule with him in the New Heavens and New Earth. If we overcome, we will not only sit at table and eat with him, we will sit on a throne and rule with him. This is amazing grace!
Let us quickly look at a few applications:
To the Lost: Jesus is Calling to You Today…
If you are cold, you are on the outside. You know that you are not a Christian nor claiming to be one. You may not know, though, and I want to tell you today, that you are dead in your transgressions and sins. You have heard the Gospel here today — you are a sinner, naked and shameful, like all of us. Like the Prodigal Son, you have been wandering in sin, seeking fulfillment in earthly pleasures, and becoming more and more spiritually impoverished — cold, dead, distant from God. You cannot survive Judgment Day on your own. Jesus’ diagnosis of the Laodicean church — “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked,” — applies to you; if you could see yourself in light of eternity, would see that that is true. Hear the promises that Jesus is able to solve each of those problems. Christ’s death on the cross can pay for all your debt and cover you. He can clothe you with garments of righteousness. Christ is offering you an incredible gift: full salvation, intimate fellowship. He can make you eternally wealthy. He can take away the wrath of God, and give you eternal life. You only need to hear His voice in this sermon — it is not just the voice of the pastor, but that of Christ, urging you to repent of your sins and open your soul to Him and allow Him to be your King, your Ruler, your Savior. If you do, He will come, and He will feast with you through the Holy Spirit. He will come into your life forever. Trust in Him.
Beware of Lukewarmness
To you who are already Christians, beware of lukewarmness. Do not think it could never happen to you. Perhaps are aware that it is already happening. I believe the Laodiceans were unregenerate. I am not saying that you are unregenerate; all of us go through lukewarm patches. We are wired to drift. Just be aware of it. It is not okay to be cool or lukewarm toward Jesus. You must fight hard to maintain the passion, the fire, the zeal for Christ.
Look at your life. Is your private devotional life characterized by fire, by passion? Do you worship Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit? Do you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, making music in your heart to the Lord? Are you thankful for everything in the name of Christ? Do you read the Scriptures passionately and accurately and personally, as though the Lord Jesus Christ were speaking to you directly? Is the outflow of your life characterized by cheerful, sacrificial service to God and to others?
Conversely, do you see Christian things, Bible-reading, prayer, church attendance as a burden? Do these things weigh you down? Are you holding on to religion because you have a tradition and a habit of it, but in truth, you are not moved in your heart toward these things? If you are more excited about a ballgame or a hobby or a vacation or a movie on Netflix than about anything spiritual, and you are only going through the motions, take heed; see the danger signs.
Do you place your confidence in your wealth, and success, and health? Do you feel like you do not need anything? Or do you have a sense of how spiritually poor you are, which stirs a passion in your heart toward Christ? It is my duty to stir up your affections as high as I possibly can as a preacher. But my sermons will pale in effect compared to your sermons to yourself. Preach to yourself: “Why are you so… downcast, lethargic, listless, cold, distant… oh, my soul? Put your hope in God.” Do not allow your heart to grow cold and distant; do not accept lukewarm expressions of your Christian walk.
Prayer: O. Hallesby
I would also commend prayer. In 1931, Norwegian pastor named Ole Hallesby wrote a book simply called Prayer. He began this little booklet on prayer with an exposition of Revelation 3:20: “Behold, 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.” He said this captures the essence of prayer. We open our nothingness and emptiness and hunger to Christ by opening the door; we bring Him into all of that in prayer.
Hallesby says this: “It is not our prayer which draws Jesus into our hearts. Nor is it our prayer which moves Jesus to come into us. All He needs is access. He enters of His own accord, because He desires to come in. To pray is nothing more than to open the door, giving Jesus access to our needs and permitting Him to exercise His power in meeting them. That requires no strength. It is just a matter of our wills. Will we give Jesus access to our weakness and needs or not?” Start here in your prayer life.
One final thought: In the book of Isaiah, we have a picture of Jesus, quoted in Matthew 12: “A bruised reed, He will not break, and a smoldering wick, He will not snuff out.” The smoldering wick is a fire that is about to go out. Jesus has the power to fan it into a flame. Ask Him to do this in your life.
Close with me in prayer.
Father, I thank You for the things we have learned today in Revelation 3. I fear for my own soul, I fear for the church, fear for individuals that are here. Oh, God, deliver us from lukewarmness. Help us to read the Scripture passionately. Help us to pray as needy, broken, empty sinners, opening the door to Jesus. Help us to learn to feast with Christ, to realize that we have been enriched with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms, and to quote those and to feel that we are rich in Christ, and that all of our nakedness has been clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and to celebrate, and to have fellowship with God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Spirit. Help us to feast. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.