The Church Nauseating To The Lord - Rev. Herman Hoeksema
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;
15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
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:
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.
19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
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.
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.
22 He that bath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
The Church Of Laodicea
Laodicea was an important city in Phrygia, southeast of Philadelphia, on the river Lycus. It was noted especially for its industry and commerce, and therefore it was very prosperous. The letter addressed by the apostle Paul to the Colossians was also intended for the church in Laodicea. For in Colossians 2:1 we read: "For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea." At the time when Paul addressed his letter to them, the church at Laodicea had been in danger of being led astray by ascetic, Judaizing philosophers. Against them the apostle warns in Colossians 2:8: "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." And this is, further expressed in Colossians 2:16-23: "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect to an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days," etc. This philosophy did not only concern the question of meat and drink and holy days, but was also an emphasis on voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, (verse 18). All these things, according to the apostle, have a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; but after all they have nothing to do with the service of Christ. For the saints are no longer subject to such ordinances, seeing they are dead with Christ, (verse 20). At the time, however, when the Lord Jesus addressed this letter to the church of Laodicea, its outstanding sin was no longer this refraining from meat and drink and this voluntary humility; but it consisted rather in spiritual selfcomplacency, accompanied, no doubt, by a spirit of worldliness.
This letter closes the series of the seven epistles written to the churches of Asia Minor, and with it our discussion of the seven-fold picture of the church in general comes to an end. We emphasized as our view that we may not consider these seven letters as so many historical predictions concerning seven consecutive periods in the history of the church, so that we will be able with tolerable accuracy to point out which period of history is presented in each of the seven epistles. On the contrary, these letters rather picture the seven-fold aspect of the church in general at any period of her history in the world. Taken in general, the church always presents this sevenfold aspect, and appears with a mixture of light and darkness, good and evil qualities, attractive and repulsive features. The good qualities of the church ascribed to her in the seven-fold picture are soundness in doctrine, faithfulness in regard to discipline, an abounding in the work of the Lord, warmth and fulness of spiritual life, love, hope, confidence, and patience in suffering and persecution for Christ's sake. These features the Lord Jesus praises and strengthens. On the other hand, there are the evil features of the church in the world: coolness of spiritual life, lack of love, laxity in discipline, a tendency to false mysticism, lack of zeal in the work of the Lord, and, as we shall see in connection with the letter to the Laodiceans, a combination of all these evil features, manifesting itself as miserable lukewarmness. These evil features the Lord strongly rebukes, and in regard to them He admonishes to repent. In connection with the evil which He found in the churches the Lord always approaches them with His threatening judgments and coming. But at the same time, He never fails to promise life and glory to those who are faithful and who overcome in the battle of faith.
Yet, although we strongly repudiate the idea of seven definite periods being represented in these letters, it must not be overlooked, as we said in the last chapter, that there is a certain intentional arrangement in the order in which the seven letters appear. The last church to be discussed is that of Laodicea, a church most miserable in every respect. There is in this purposely arranged order an indication as to what we may expect in the future. From a human point of view, the Word of God pictures that future as not too bright. And those who live under the impression that toward the end of time and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ the church will appear in a most flourishing condition certainly find no support in Scripture. The order in which these letters occur seems to indicate that we rather may expect a gradual decline, till the church presents the aspect of the congregation of the Laodiceans. From Ephesus to Laodicea appears to be the path the church will follow in her outward development. The evil element in the church will assert itself and develop more and more, till the general aspect is such that the Lord is ready to spue the church out of His mouth.
The Condition Of Laodicea
The general description of the Laodicean church you may find in the words, "...thou art neither cold nor hot...So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." This characterization applies, no doubt, not only to the works of the church in the outward sense, but to her entire condition, internal as well as external.
It is useless to make the attempt to analyse this description and give an interpretation of the various elements, spiritualizing each one of them. This has frequently been done, but exactly by such a procedure the point of the figure that is here employed is lost sight of. To be hot was then interpreted as being zealous in the work of the Lord and filled with true spiritual life. Naturally, to be cold was then understood in the opposite sense of the word and applied to a condition of absolute spiritual deadness, to a complete lack of spiritual life. But, in the first place, the conclusion would then seem to be quite inevitable that in the light of such an interpretation the condition of lukewarmness would always seem preferable to the state of being cold. But Jesus evidently prefers the latter above the former: for He says in this letter, "I would thou wert either cold or hot." Either of these is preferable to lukewarmness. Hence, such an interpretation seems in the nature of the case excluded and impossible. In the second place, as we have stated already, the point of the figure is entirely overlooked in that interpretation. The Lord employs a figure to describe the condition of the church in Laodicea. It is the figure of a drink of water. A hot drink is pleasing to the taste and recuperating in its effect. A cold drink is refreshing and delicious. But a lukewarm drink is disgusting to him who swallows it. It turns the stomach. It is sickening. It has a nauseating effect. Well, then, by this figure the Lord describes the general condition of the church and the impression she makes upon Him. He simply says: "Your condition is such that you are nauseating to me." That this is the meaning is emphasized by the form in which the Lord puts the threatening judgment, "I will spue thee out of my mouth." Literally the Lord says in these words, "I am about to vomit thee out." The meaning, therefore, is very plain. We must not attempt to find a spiritual signification for every one of the terms employed in the figure, but rather understand the figure in its general meaning. And then it is plain that the Lord means to say: "The church of Laodicea is so miserable that I cannot tolerate her any more. I am about to reject her in disgust!
The question arises, however: what is the condition of this church which makes her so nauseating to the Lord?
Christ Himself gives the answer. He tells us that the church is "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked," first of all.
Of course, all these terms refer to the spiritual condition of the church. Hardly could we find a more emphatic description of miserableness in Scripture than the one here presented of Laodicea. The word used here in the original for "wretched" is the same as that employed by the apostle Paul when, at the close of Romans 7, he exclaims: "0 wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" There is no reason why we should not understand the word here in the same sense. Laodicea was wretched in herself. She was sinful and condemned. In herself she was nothing but the object of the wrath of God. In the day of judgment she would never be able to make both ends meet. That is why she was at the same time miserable, that is, according to the original, "an object of pity." She was to be pitied. Unless the mercy of God had compassion on her, she would be utterly lost. The wretchedness of the condition of the church in Laodicea is emphasized still more when the Lord says that she is "poor, blind, naked." She is the very opposite of the church in Smyrna. The latter was rich; Laodicea is poor. She does not possess the riches of grace. Faith, love, hope, patience, understanding of the truth, watchfulness, and a fighting of the battle of faith,-all these were sought in vain in the church of Laodicea. She was blind. Instead of being able to see the wretchedness of her condition, she was wanting even in the knowledge of self. She could not see her own misery. She was naked. In all the wretchedness of her condition, in all her sin and shame, in all her misery and poverty, in all her blindness and condemnation, the church of Laodicea stood without a cover for her shame, In her bare misery she stood before the eyes of Him Who pierces and scrutinizes the darkest corners of the human soul. In a word, Laodicea was simply the picture of misery!
Nor is this all. Perhaps you would make the remark that there is nothing strange and extraordinary in this description of the church. Is it then not true of every church that she is wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked in herself? Does not the Christian daily apply this very description to himself? This, of course, is true. But the nauseating condition and attitude of Laodicea consisted exactly in this, that she did not apply this to her own state and condition. She did not admit that she was wretched. Never would she recognize her own picture in this description by the Lord. The very opposite is true. The testimony of the church regarding herself was exactly the opposite from the picture which Jesus drew of her. Jesus said that she was wretched and miserable; the church in Laodicea maintained that she had need of nothing. Jesus said that she was poor; Laodicea's idea of herself was that she was rich. Jesus described her as being blind and naked; the church's opinion of herself was that she was increased with goods. Of course, all these expressions are to be taken in the spiritual sense of the word. It may be true that Laodicea was also rich in goods according to the world. It may very well be true that she had many possessions, and that her goods increased in the material sense of the word. Earthly riches and spiritual poverty often accompany one another. And also in the spiritual sphere it is true that it is very difficult to remain strong in faith and rich in spiritual life at the same time that we increase in riches in the material sense, in the riches of the world. Nevertheless, in these words the church of Laodicea is described in her state of spiritual self-satisfaction. They were well satisfied with their own condition. They thought themselves to be a strong church. Such followed exactly from their blindness: they never saw their own misery and their lack of every spiritual good. They formed quite an opinion of themselves. Spiritual poverty and spiritual pride went together.
I take it that here, as in the church of Sardis, the angel of the church was chiefly and principally at fault, in the first place. The development of the church is often thus, that the leader, the angel, the minister of the church, becomes lax and unfaithful and falls away first of all; and the congregation gradually follows. I imagine that the angel of Laodicea was a well-satisfied, easy-going, good-for-nothing sort of man. He must have been a man who always spoke of peace where there was no peace. He lacked the courage to lay his finger on the sore spots. He was no fighter. He attempted to find out what the opinion of his people was before he expressed his own. And so he gradually flattered them into their self-satisfied condition. He preached no sin and condemnation; or, if he did, he knew how to do it in such a way that nobody could possibly be offended. He left the people blind and poor and naked; and he told them that they were rich and that their goods increased. Thus, I imagine, did the angel of the church in Laodicea behave. Small wonder, then, that the congregation followed! But however this may be, it was exactly this awful contrast between their actual condition and the opinion which they had of themselves that made them perfectly nauseating and that at the same time made their condition so hopeless. For indeed, the publican, who knows and confesses his wretchedness, is justified; but what hope is there for the miserable Pharisee, who thanks God for his own goodness?
It may, perhaps, seem a severe indictment; but personally we have not the slightest doubt that the church of today begins to reveal an alarming degree of similarity with the church of Laodicea. Also in the church of today there is a goodly measure of self-satisfaction and self-righteousness. The church cries out more loudly than ever: 'Ye are rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing." I am speaking of what calls itself the church in the modern world. Christianity of today boasts that she is waking up to the great task of the church of all ages. We speak of big things. We are going to bring righteousness and peace in society and state, and thus usher in the kingdom of God. It appears that man intends to do so in his own power, which, by the way, already miserably fails. The word spoken to the church in Philadelphia, "Thou hast a little strength," is no more understood. In the second place, our age is characterized by a sad, but very emphatic lack of the knowledge of sin and misery. The church knows not that she is wretched and miserable and poor and naked. And also today, we take it that the leaders, the ministers of the gospel, are to be blamed primarily. Sin is no more preached. Of depravity and misery, of sin and guilt, we hear no more. And the result is that also the gospel of the cross, the gospel of the righteousness of Christ by faith in Him alone, is fast disappearing from our pulpits. Christ of Galilee, not of Calvary, is preached. The Christ Who loved and did well, the social Christ, is held up as our example. But the Servant of Jehovah, the suffering Servant, Who was punished for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, is lost out of sight. I am speaking, I repeat, of the church in the modern world in general. Is it a wonder that the church is asleep, that she imagines that she is rich and in need of nothing, while in actual fact she is poor and blind and naked, wretched and miserable? A terrible blow it must have been to that profoundly self-satisfied church of Laodicea when the message came to her: "I will spue thee out of my mouth." But would to God that the church of today might hear this same message, that she might be stirred up from her self-satisfied condition and stung to the quick.
The Lord's Self-Announcement
Let us learn what message must be brought to such a church as that of Laodicea. First of all, we may notice that the Lord Jesus emphasizes strongly that not their opinion of self, but His opinion of them is true and reliable. This He does in His Self-announcement. Says He: "These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness." "Amen" denotes that which is firm, abiding, true. It is that on which one may rely. Hence, the latter phrase, "the faithful and true witness," may be considered as a sort of commentary and explanation of the name "Amen." Just because the Lord is the Amen in Himself, He is also such in His testimony. His witness is true and faithful. He never makes a mistake. Error is out of the question with Him. Neither must it be expected that He will become unfaithful and cater to the good-will of men. And the result is that His testimony is perfectly in harmony with the condition of the church in Laodicea. The members of the church may certainly rely upon it, that if His testimony concerning them clashes with their own opinion of self, it is because the latter and not the former, is erroneous. This the Laodiceans must hear, in the first place. They were filled with conceit. They had been flattered into the delusion that they were rich and in need of nothing. Not easily would they exchange this view for that of someone else. If their minister had preached this gospel of wretchedness and misery and poverty and blindness and nakedness to them at this time, likely it is that they would have deposed him. And therefore, Jesus comes first of all with the gentle reminder that it is the faithful and true witness speaking, the Amen, upon Whom they may rely. And the same method holds true for the church of today. The church must again hear the Word of God. She must again understand that from her pulpit it is not a private and personal opinion, but the authoritative voice of the Amen that is speaking. If she does not, there is no hope for her.
In the second place, the Lord reveals Himself as the rich and all-sufficient One. Already in the expression, "the beginning of the creation of God," this truth is suggested. The meaning of this phrase is, of course, not that Jesus is the first of the creatures, and therefore Himself a creature: for this would conflict with all that the Word of God reveals of Immanuel. He is from eternity to eternity God. But the meaning is rather that He is the principle of all that was created. In that sense He is the firstborn of every creature. All things were made by Him and through Him, the eternal Word. He is the fountain of all that exists. And because He is the beginning of all things that are made, they all subsist in Him and by Him. Now the purpose is that in these words Jesus might reveal Himself in His divine fulness. That He is the beginning of the creation of God points Him out to us as the eternal and allsufficient One, Who possesses and controls all things in heaven and on earth, and at the same time as the One by Whom and for Whom all things are created in heaven and on earth. He alone, therefore, and that too, as the Christ, is the beginning of all riches. He alone is the fount of all good for the church.
But also in the counsel Jesus gives to the church of Laodicea He introduces Himself as having in His possession exactly those things the church so sorely needed. She was wretched and miserable, and her misery consisted in this, that she was poor and blind and naked. But the Lord possesses gold tried by fire, spiritual riches and glory, which make the possessor truly rich. The Lord has eyesalve which will open the eyes of the blind: spiritual eyesalve, which will cause him that applies it to see the true light in Christ. The Lord has garments, spiritual garments of righteousness and sanctification, which will truly cover them that buy them of Him before God Almighty. He, therefore, is the fulness of the church. The church must rid herself of the notion that she is rich in self, and she must confess that Jesus Christ alone is her riches and fulness.
The Lord's Counsel To Laodicea
In the third place, we notice that Jesus approaches them with the advice, the earnest appeal, to come to Him and buy these precious articles of gold and eyesalve and garments. Of course, we cannot and do not interpret these words as if the blessings of grace could be bought with a price which we have in our possession. That would be an absolutely false and unscriptural interpretation and conclusion. It is true, gold and eyesalve and garments here represent the riches of grace as they are all in Christ Jesus our Lord. They represent those riches which the church of Laodicea so sorely needed and lacked. And they are blessings of grace in the most absolute sense of the word. The sinner has nothing wherewith he would be able to buy them. How could anyone who is poor buy gold and garments and eyesalve? Hence, when Jesus speaks here of buying, He simply employs the figure of the merchant consistently. There is in the very contradiction that is implied in these words a certain irony. Laodicea thought that she was rich. Well, then, let her buy what she needs mostly. Who that is rich and increased with goods walks about without garments? What wealthy man is without gold? Who that is blind and has the opportunity to buy eyesalve would be without it? But above all, Jesus expresses here also in this counsel that they are in need of all these things, that they do not possess them although they so sorely need them, that they ought to realize their need first of all. He that imagines that he possesses all a merchant offers does not buy. As long as Laodicea imagines that she is rich, she will not buy gold. As long as she imagines that she is clothed, she will not buy garments. As long as she lives in the delusion that she can see, she will not buy eyesalve to anoint her eyes. Hence, in this admonition the Lord presses the thought upon them that she is wanting in all these things, that she must come to the realization of this want, and that in the consciousness of it she must come to Him who possesses what can fulfill her needs, in order that she might receive all from Him.
Truly, this counsel may well be presented to the church of today. As we have said, the church in general is growing more and more self-sufficient, and feels that she has need of nothing. All she feels is that the world is in need of many things; and she is bent upon increasing the whole world with goods, but herself is satisfied. She does not feel the need of gold and eyesalve and garments; yet she is poor and blind and naked. Well may her attention be called to this fact emphatically. The testimony must be heard again and again, that only in Christ is all grace and fulness of blessing, and that outside of Him we lie in the midst of death. The testimony of the rich Christ and the poor sinner must go forth loudly and emphatically, in order that the church may buy gold and eyesalve and garments to cover her nakedness. If she does not hear this counsel, the church will turn to destruction and be swallowed up by the world.
Judgment, Exhortation, And Promise
But will the church of Laodicea listen and heed this counsel of her Lord?
We do not receive the impression that she will. Of course, she would return only by the power of the grace of her Lord Who is writing this letter unto her. But there seems to be very little hope. Time and again in the history of the church we find that there is a return from apostasy and a quickening by the power of the grace of Christ. But naturally, the time will come that the church will repent no more and when only judgment can be expected. Throughout the letter we get the impression that such is the condition of the church in Laodicea.
Notice, in the first place, that the announcement of judgment upon the church as a whole is unconditional and absolute. In other letters the threat of judgment was always contingent upon impenitence. If they would not repent, the Lord would visit them with His punishment. But here the judgment and punishment seem inevitable. The Lord simply says: "Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." He will utterly reject, cast out, this miserable church. There seems to be no hope for her. The impression, therefore, is that the church will not repent.
In the second place, we may notice that the admonition to repent and the promise in case of repentance and faithfulness is addressed to individuals in the church, rather than to the church as a whole. Of course, there will always be a faithful remnant in the church of Christ. Even to the end of the world there will be the elect of God, even though the church outwardly may apostatize and become unfaithful and miserable. And it is to, these that the Lord evidently addresses Himself. In the first place, this is plain from the expression, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent." The thought evidently is that even in the most miserable church of Laodicea there are still some of Christ's true people. They have perhaps fallen asleep, overcome by the deadening atmosphere which is prevailing in the church of Laodicea. And the Lord comes to them with His admonition to wake up to new zeal and to repent. They must manifest themselves as His people. They must wake up to the situation. And being zealous for their Lord, they must witness against the unfaithfulness of the church. They must not remain asleep with the rest of the church. Hence, the Lord rebukes and chastens them, that they may come to repentance. This is even more evident when the Lord adds: "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." There certainly is no need to change the manner and object of the address here, as if Jesus were now standing at the door of the heart of the sinner. We are undoubtedly well aware as to how this interpretation is quite popular. Jesus is presented here as standing at the door of the sinner's heart, begging that the sinner may open the door, to let Jesus in. But this representation of the matter finds no support in the text.
Evidently Jesus is standing not at the door of the heart, but at the door of the church in Laodicea. That church had become unfaithful. That church had cast Him out. He was now standing outside. Within, however, there are those whom He loves and whom He would rebuke and chasten, that they may come to repentance and wake up to a new zeal. Therefore He addresses them from without. He admonishes them to wake up. And He promises them who would hear His voice and let Him in that He will sup with them. Once more, the church as a whole seems hopelessly lost. It is miserable beyond redemption. He will spue her out of His mouth. But His own beloved, the elect of God, must not perish with the rest. Hence, He calls them. And He promises them that they shall have communion with Him, the communion of the covenant. That communion they now miss. For in their present condition they cannot exercise conscious communion with their Lord. But if they repent and wake up to a new zeal, they shall again be receptive for all the blessings of Its grace. And wake up the remnant according to the election of grace surely will, when the Lord applies by His powerful grace His Word of admonition to their hearts. The supper is symbol of friendly communion. When therefore the Lord promises that He will sup with His people, He assures them of that most intimate communion of friendship which is the central, the most essential idea of the covenant. He will sup with them! In Him they will sup with the Father and the Son through the Spirit. They shall be restored to that intimate communion with the Triune God which is life. From all this, however, it is quite apparent that the church as a whole is lost, and that only the individual faithful, the individual people of God within the church, shall be saved.
Finally, the Lord concludes also this letter with a promise for him that overcometh and is faithful unto the end: "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."
If in the former promise the Lord assured His people of the communion of the covenant, symbolized in supping with Him, in this passage He promises the faithful that they will enter into the kingdom eternal and reign with Him forever. Closely are these two truths related. Man was created a covenant being, destined as the imagebearer of God to have most intimate communion with Him. In that relation of friendship of man to God, however, he was at the same time to have dominion over all things. In communion with God, standing in relation to Him as a friend to his Friend, man was to reign over the works of God. But through his sin and fall in Adam as the head of the race, man fell out of that relation to God, became God's enemy, and at the same time was consigned to slavery, the slavery of sin. In Christ Jesus, however, the relation of the covenant is restored and elevated to the highest possible level. He comes to suffer and bear our condemnation. He overcomes as the suffering Servant, being faithful unto death. He restores our human nature to that height of glory and perfection where the perfect communion of the covenant is again possible and is realized in the highest possible sense of the word. At the same time, in Christ the dominion over all things is again restored to man. He overcame and was exalted. So shall all who overcome with Him be exalted. And all who overcome shall participate in that glory at the moment they pass from the church militant into the church triumphant.
True, the final glory still abides until the day of the Lord Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, it remains true that even as Christ now reigns in glory, so principally the believers in Christ also reign with Him through faith even in the present world. And it is also true that even immediately after death they shall be given part of that glory of our Lord and reign with Him as kings. That glory and that reign and that dominion shall be perfected in the new creation, after Christ has come to judge the quick and the dead. What a tremendous difference! Here the people of God belong to the despised, to the poor, to those who are persecuted, to those who are without glory. There they shall share in Christ's own glory, there they shall reign as kings, there they shall shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father; and all creation shall be subject unto them through Christ Jesus their Lord.
Hear, then, what the Spirit saith unto the churches!
What doth the Spirit say?
Watch and fight; overcome and be faithful unto the end! Have no part with the church that lives in self-sufficiency and has no need of anything. Only in our Lord Jesus Christ is the fulness of grace. Only going out to Him shall we be satisfied with His friendship. Watch, therefore, and be zealous! Be faithful unto the end!