(Revelation 3, ESV): 14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. 15“I know your works (labor): you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 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. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.”
Many Christians believe that Laodicea, as the final church addressed by Jesus in the first chapters of Revelation, represents the “last days” church age in which we are living now, in which “lukewarmness” is rampant. Be that as it may, I do think the church of Laodicea closely mirrors many believers today, and so the indictments and counsel Jesus gave her are very relevant for us here and now. I actually think this is a vital word for our day when properly understood.
I have been taught and believed that Laodicea means “lukewarm.” But it’s doesn’t. It literally means something we would almost consider to be the opposite. Laodicea means “people of righteousness,” or “a just/righteous people.” It is a combination of the Greek words laos (a people) and dikaios (right or just). As we will see, Laodicea’s righteousness was only in their own eyes (self-righteousness) and maybe in the eyes of others (outward righteousness), but not in the eyes of the Lord (inward, true righteousness). I believe God sees righteousness differently than Christians often do. At the cross of Christ, everything radically changed in terms of what God desires, what pleases Him, and how we should relate to Him. The Laodicean, “just and righteous” church and anything it may represent is one of which Jesus Christ has not one positive thing to say.
Much is often made of Laodicea being “lukewarm.” The thinking goes that to be lukewarm means to be apathetic, as evidenced by little or no involvement in ministry, minimal bible study and church attendance, rationalization of sinful activity, etc. But here’s the main problem with this line of thinking: it’s simply not what Jesus said lukewarm is. If you read closely, you’ll see Jesus explained exactly why he finds Laodicea to be lukewarm. This is a conditino that makes him nauseous and ready to vomit. Look at the emphasized part of Jesus’ words below:
(Revelation 3): 16“So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
Jesus calls them lukewarm and nauseating because of the self-confident, complacent attitude of their heart and their lack of perception of their true state. Laodicea says (in their heart): “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” This literally translates as: “I am rich, have an abundance, and have no need whatsoever.” Let’s remember, Jesus said his words were “spirit and life” (John 6:63). Jesus was concerned only with the Kingdom of God; his Father’s will being known and done on earth. I believe all of Jesus’ words and teachings were, first and foremost, speaking of spiritual realities. He came to declare and pave the way for the spiritual kingdom of God, who is Spirit (I wrote of this idea more fully in my very first post on this blog). The spiritual realm is deep within the “inner man” of each one of us, where the Kingdom is. The natural, literal/physical mindsets and interpretations of scripture that are prevalent today have contributed to the spiritually emaciated and blind state of so many believers, no matter how outwardly “righteous” they are.
If this is the case, then Laodicea isn’t lukewarm because of their riches and lack of need materially, and they aren’t lukewarm because of their lack of good works. Their lukewarmness is attributed to their belief that they are spiritually rich and without need. Laodicea (the righteous people) have come to a place where they are so blind they have no sense of their pitiful condition and desperate need. The scary part is they probably are totally convinced of their spiritual “wealth,” while Jesus says they are, literally “undergoing a testing, pitiable, thoroughly destitute, blind, and naked.” Such is the true state of Laodicea, the “righteous people.” When Jesus’ words are seen correctly, as spiritual states, the horrible and ghastly reality of Laodicea’s condition becomes apparent. More could be said of each of these states, but the basic meaning of each is sufficient to get the Lord’s meaning.
Much of Christianity today teaches us to pray a “sinner’s prayer” in order to be saved, and that once that’s done, heaven is assured. That’s really the goal of Christianity – to get to heaven and to avoid hell. It’s not ultimately about God, it’s about SELF. God is in the picture, but ultimately, only as a means to serve self. And sure, self is thankful! The righteousness of Laodicea is a self-righteousness that is based on self-confidence, believing that one has “arrived” and needs nothing else. Laodicea says in their heart they are “rich” by believing in Christ, have “abundance” by doing good works, and “lack nothing” because they are saved and assured of going to heaven. But it’s all deception.
It’s hard to overstate how precarious and scary the condition of Laodicea is, especially because those within Laodicea don’t realize their true state (ask God to give you light on your true condition, reader). However, Jesus doesn’t leave them helpless, he gives them counsel to return to true righteousness. In my next post I plan to look closer at the counsel he gives. God bless you.