The Book of Revelation with commentary by Dr. Henry M. Morris and paintings by Ramona Lowe
The paintings are a work in progress and the finished pieces are highlighted in red on Page 2

Page 25

The Neutral Church

     The last of the seven letters was to the church at Laodicea, a city forty-five miles southeast of Philadelphia and almost one hundred miles east of Ephesus.  It was a very wealthy trade center, and the church members at Laodicea shared in that wealth.  Outwardly, the church at Laodicea was the most impressive of the seven, but spiritually it was the most distressing of all.

Revelation 3:14.    And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God.

     As at Philadelphia, the opening salutation to Laodicea goes beyond the description of Christ in the first chapter, calling attention to those attributes especially needing recognition at Laodicea.  Because of its worldly success, the church had become indifferent to its real spiritual need.  Doubting the absolute and unique authority of the Word of God, it had imbibed much of the humanistic philosophy of the intellectual world  of that day.  The neighboring church at Colosse, to whom Paul had written thirty years before, had even in his day been influenced by such speculations, and Paul had urgently warned them against all philosophies of men (Colossians 2:8-10).  Furthermore, all false philosophies of past and present have been based of evolutionism, the denial of an ultimate Creator transcendent to His creation.  The Lord Jesus Christ, therefore, in His message to the Laodiceans (as Paul did to the Colossians) reminded them of the basic distinctives of the true biblical theism in which they once had expressed belief.  He was the beginning of the Creation, none other than the Creator of all things in heaven and earth.  (See also Colossians 1:16-19).  Not only was He the Alpha but also the Omega – the Amen.  Of Him and for Him are all things, and His word is true and faithful.

     The compromising neutrality and self-centeredness of Laodicea is characteristic of great numbers of so-called evangelical churches today and they, like the church at Laodicea, need to be called back to belief in true creationism and true biblical authority, and to belief in Jesus Christ as the true Creator and the faithful witness.

Revelation 3:15.    I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

     In one sense, Laodicea was a better church than Sardis; it was at least tepid, but Sardis seemed cold and dead.  Yet the Lord says He would rather it be cold like Sardis.  In modern terminology, a church of dead orthodoxy is better than one of prosperous but neutral evangelism.

     The Laodicean church was not one of complete apostasy; its candlestick had not been removed, and the Lord was still in the midst of the candlesticks.  Neither was it barren and cold, as many doctrinally sound churches had become, such as Sardis.  It was apparently receiving many new members.  It had a large and prosperous congregation, impressive facilities, and an active program.  But it sought to be neutral on controversial matters, to maintain open dialogue with both left and right, to have recognition from the mighty and the wealthy and the intelligentsia.  It was not cold to the vital truths of God, His Creation, His Word – but neither would it take a firm stand and proclaim a true witness.  And Christ amazingly said, if they could not be “hot,” He would rather see them “cold.”

Revelation 3:16.    So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

     The Lord Jesus Christ, the same as any other man, could enjoy either a hot drink or a cold drink, but no one wants a tepid drink.  He uses graphic language to describe His reaction: “I will [literally,  ‘am about to’] spue thee out of my mouth.”  His determination to cast out such a church was not final; there was still room for repentance and revival, but the situation was grave.

     The number of such churches today is legion, and they are a greater hindrance to the cause of Christ than if they were cold and dead.  The latter reach no one, so they harm no one.  The neutral churches, however, -- the middle-of-the-road churches, the mediating churches, the compromising churches – reach many whose temperaments favor accommodationism anyhow and, with eloquent dissimulation, persuade them that, while a little religion is good, they must avoid fanaticism.  Furthermore, they bitterly resent “hot” churches and do all they can to cool their enthusiasm and dilute their convictions.  They cannot abide churches which, by their very existence, constitute a rebuke to their own lack of doctrinal conviction and missionary zeal.

Revelation 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.

     Such words as these bite and burn.  Yet many commentators on these verses have come from just such neutralist churches – as well as other compromising Christian institutions and organizations.  Such commentaries apply the passage to modernistic and apostate churches, churches where the inspiration of the Scriptures, the virgin birth of Christ, the substitutionary atonement and other basic doctrines are openly denied and repudiated.  Neutralist writers find it easy enough to reject such blasphemies as these, and it soothes their conscience to do so, yet all the while – as Christ says – they know not it is “thou” (the Greek here is emphatic) to whom He speaks.  Blatantly liberal churches are not churches at all in the biblical sense.  They have no candlestick, and Christ is not in their midst.  It is the neutral churches of which He here speaks.

     Such churches, commonly calling themselves conservative, or evangelical, or charismatic, or even fundamentalist, may have big church buildings and ostentatious programs and be very much impressed with themselves, but if they do not stand solidly and fervently for true creationism and full biblical inerrancy and authority in all things, He who is the Creator and the Word finds them intolerably distasteful and threatens to spue them out.

Revelation 3:18.    I counsel 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 eyesalve, that thou mayest see. 

     He who is the “Wonderful Counsellor” (Isaiah 9:6) still loves this church (verse 19) in spite of its tepid accommodationism.  He therefore lovingly gives His counsel concerning their desperate, but unrecognized, need.  “Buy from me!”  He says.  But all their wealth cannot buy what they need.  Buy “without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1).  The purchase price is merely to recognize their wretched condition and come to Him in repentance, forsaking their riches and prestige for the true riches (faith tried in the fire – 1 Peter 1:7) and their worldly wisdom for true wisdom (Colossians 2:3) in Christ.  They must receive the pure white garments of His righteousness to replace the filthy rags of their own righteousness (Isaiah 64:6).  As eyesalve is needed for physical blindness, so their spiritual blindness must be assuaged by “the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:17, 18).

Revelation 3:19.    As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

     It is obvious that these lukewarm, compromising Christians in Laodicea are, indeed, Christians.  Otherwise Christ would not rebuke and chasten them.  “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Hebrews 12:6).  The Lord does not indicate what the chastening would be, but it would certainly include exposure of their spiritual poverty and nakedness to the worldly crowd whom they had been so anxious to impress.  “That the shame of thy nakedness do appear” would certainly be among the worst chastisements for such a proud and intellectual church.  But Christ loves them, and desires their repentance.

Revelation 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.

     Here the Lord uses a different figure, but to the same purpose.  His rebuke and chastening are like a knock at one’s door.  If that person hears His knock and also hears His voice – both through his experience of chastisement and through Christ’s written Word – then he ought to respond, though Christ does not compel him to do so.  He does not force the door.  The occupant must open the door.  That is, he must repent of his pride and his self-sufficiency, his human wisdom, and his cowardly neutrality.  Then – but not until then – will he know the real joy of true fellowship with his Lord.

     Clearly, this exhortation is directed to compromising worldly believers in the church at Laodicea, and in all other such churches, of which there are multitudes today.  It is not a gospel verse addressed to the unsaved, though it is so used widely today.  The verse contains nothing of the gospel message as such – no mention of substitutionary atonement, of Christ’s resurrection, of repentance, of faith in the person and work of Christ.  Neither is there anything in the adjacent context about these vital matters. Yet evangelists and personal workers everywhere commonly employ this verse as a gospel invitation.  God, in His grace, does occasionally use it to help bring an unsaved person to Christ, since it does enjoin a proper attitude of openness to God’s call, but that is not its intent.  It was addressed only to compromising, lukewarm Christians in compromising, lukewarm churches, and it is they whom Christ is seeking to draw back to Himself.

     There is a further important truth here.  In the three previous letters, He had urged His people to expect and prepare for His imminent return, either in judgment or blessing.  In that context, the lukewarm Laodiceans should certainly be expected likewise to prepare for the Lord’s coming.  His knocking also takes the form of prophetic fulfillments and world events in the light of His word (“hear my voice”).  As these are observed, even a lukewarm compromising brother might well be stirred up, to look for the Lord, and to believe His Word.

     So, when He says, “I stand at the door, knocking,” He is also referring to His imminent personal coming back to earth again, where one day, indeed, He will literally “sup” with His people, at the great marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).  “So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors” (Matthew 24:33).

Revelation 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.

     This is an amazing manifestation of grace.  One who was about to be spewed out of His mouth is invited to sit with Him on His throne.  When the Lord was faithful unto death, He was raised from the dead and “is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).  In like manner, those who are His will reign with Him when His own throne is set up, first His millennial throne (Revelation 20:4) and finally His eternal throne (Revelation 22:3, 4).

     Notice again that all seven of the promises to the overcomers involve features that are mentioned again in the description of the ages to come, where all will be fulfilled.  Thus, the tree of life was promised at Ephesus (Revelation 22:2), deliverance from the second death at Smyrna (20:6), the new name written at Pergamos (22:4), the morning star to the Thyatirans (22:16), white raiment to the church at Sardis (19:8), the new Jerusalem to the Philadelphians (22:2) and a sharing of His throne at Laodicea (20:4).    

Revelation 3:22.    He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

     The seven epistles close with the seventh rehearsal of this exhortation.  Such a seven-fold repetition of an identical commandment stresses its extreme importance.  It is vital that we read and heed these messages to the churches.  The same problems that faced their churches, confront our churches, and the same warnings and promises apply to us as well as them.

     In this verse is the last mention of the church in the Book of Revelation until the last chapter, where John is reminded that the entire book is to be sent to the churches (Revelation 22:16).  There are no churches as such on earth during the climactic events of judgment described from Revelation 4 onwards, and so no reference to the churches appears in these chapters.  The message of all the chapters (Revelation 1:4) is for all of Christ’s churches, however, and it is that message to which we now proceed. 

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