3. The Laodicean state of Christendom.
In Revelation two and three we have seven
Epistles addressed to the seven churches in Asia. These Epistles - in keeping
with the nature of the book in which they are found - are prophetic in
their scope. They record the sentences of the Divine Judge who appears in the
midst of these churches (see 1:13-20) inspecting and passing decisions. They
contain a panorama of the Church's history. They give us a complete
outline of the entire course of the Christian profession, of going from bad to
worse, until at the end a condition is reached which compels the Lord to
utterly repudiate that which bears His name. We cannot now do more than
hurriedly trace the order of thought and point out the leading features in
these seven prophetic pictures.
The first of these Epistles is addressed to the
church at Ephesus and is recorded in Revelation 2:1-7. In it we have viewed
the originating cause of the declination which began in the apostolic age.
"Thou hast left thy first love" (vs. 4) - the cooling of the church's
affection for Christ was the source of all the evil that followed. There was
much outward zeal, but the heart was not right, and where love declines
evil practices soon follow. Even so was it at the early date contemplated by
the first of these seven Epistles, for at Ephesus we learn there were "false
apostles" (vs. 2) and "Nicolaitanes" whose deeds were "hateful" to Christ and
the Ephesians themselves (vs. 6). "Remember therefore from whence thou art
fallen, and repent" (vs. 5) shows the beginning of the downward path.
In the second Epistle addressed to the church in
Smyrna and recorded in Revelation 2:8-11, we have a prophetic picture which
describes the conditions that prevailed from John's time till the beginning of
the fourth century A.D. - a period of persecution and martyrdom. Here we are
shown a Judaizing Christianity spreading within the church, and mention is made
of the "synagogue of Satan" (vs. 9).
In the Epistle to the third church - Pergamos
(Rev. 2:12-17) - we find the progress in evil is still more marked. The
prophetic application of this Epistle carries us on to the days of Constantine
when the church and the world joined hands. This unholy alliance was
foreshadowed by the name of the church addressed, for Pergamos signifies a
"marriage." Here we read of "Satan's throne"). Here, too, mention is again
made of the Nicolaitanes, but whereas in Ephesus it was the "deeds of
the Nicolaitanes" (vs. 6) that were mentioned, here it is the "doctrine
of the Nicolaitanes" (vs. 15) - false practices had now become articles of
faith. Observe that at first the church "hated" their deeds (vs. 6), here
their evil beliefs were tolerated and cherished.
In the fourth Epistle - to Thyatira (Rev.
2:18-29) we have disclosed a yet fouler condition of ecclesiastical corruption
and are carried forward to the rise of Roman Catholicism, which is here termed
"Jezebel" - "Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee because thou
sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and
to seduce My servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto
idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented
not" (vss. 20,21). That "space" began at the Reformation period and has lasted
till now, but the Papacy is still unchanged.
In the fifth Epistle addressed to the church in
Sardis (3:1-6) we are brought down to the days of Martin Luther and his
contemporaries, when many of God's people were delivered from Popery. Observe
here "Thou hast a name" (vs. 1). That name was "Protestantism" which defined
both their claim and testimony. But note further, "Thou hast a name that thou
livest, and art dead." Thus it has proven; so it is today.
Protestantism is now nothing more than a "name," its vitality has long since
departed. How this latter-day condition was anticipated by the very terms
of this Epistle may be seen by the language of verses 2 and 3 - "Be watchful,
and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not
found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast
received, and heard, and hold fast, and repent." Alas! that this
admonition passed unheeded. "But, are all within the circle of
Protestantism now spiritually dead?" it may be asked. No; and mark the
prophetic accuracy of this Epistle - "Thou hast a few names even in
Sardis which have not defiled their garments" (vs. 4)!
In the sixth Epistle addressed to the church in
Philadelphia (3:7-13) we are brought down to the last century. Three things
are to be noted here. First, Philadelphia signifies "brotherly love" and it
was during the last century particularly that this Christian grace was
acknowledged and displayed. Not until the nineteenth century was the truth of
the Unity of the Church recovered and the common brotherhood of believers
practically owned. Second, the Lord sets before this church an "open door"
(vs. 8), a door which He had opened Himself. This was the "door" which led to
the Foreign Mission field, and it was not until last century that age-long
barriers were so wonderfully removed by God and world-wide evangelism made
practically easy. Third, "Thou hast a little strength" (vs. 8)
accurately describes the condition of the church during the last hundred
We turn now to consider at a little more length
the seventh Epistle, addressed to the church of the Laodiceans (Rev. 3:14-22).
This Epistle portrays the last state of the professing church on earth,
a state characterized by high pretensions and self-sufficiency, but so
utterly nauseous to Christ that He declares "I know thy works, that thou art
neither cold nor hot: I would that thou wert cold or hot. So then because
thou art lukewarm I will sue thee out of My mouth" (vss. 15,16).
The word Laodicea means "the rule of the laity or
people." It is the people's church, not Christ's for notice He is
outside (vs. 20), standing and knocking for admission. Its condition is
described as "lukewarm:" it is neither one thing nor the other, partly
hot and partly cold. How accurately this describes the present day condition
of the professing church! A condition of mixture - mixed up with the world,
claiming to be heavenly and yet clinging to everything that is earthly; bearing
the name of Christ, and yet misrepresenting Him and putting Him to an open
shame. Much religion but little life. Much activity but little vitality.
Much doing but little accomplished. Much display but little power. Neither
hot nor cold: neither out and out for God, nor out and out for the Devil.
"Luke warm," as though hot and cold water had been poured into the same vessel.
This is exactly what we have in the churches today - intense worldliness and
wickedness veneered over with humanitarian and religious pretenses.
Another characteristic of Laodicea is the spirit
of boosting - "Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and
have need of nothing" (vs. 17). Loud and lofty are the pretensions of the
professing church, but how shallow they really are! There is much ostentatious
parading of resources, but it is an empty profession. There is self-conceit,
showy attainments, architectural display, intellectual acquirements,
influential numbers, but Christ is excluded! In this church (see the
Epistle), unlike all the previous ones, there is nothing whatever in it that
Christ commends - sad commentary upon its true condition! But this is merely
negative: there is much in it that He condemns - "and knowest not that
thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (vs. 17).
The church is utterly ignorant of its actual and deplorable state. Its leaders
are crying "Peace and safety" when "sudden destruction" is upon them (1 Thess.
5:3). Unspeakably sad is this. Whenever there is recognition of our condition
and our need, there is hope, for recognition and acknowledgement of weakness is
the secret of strength (2 Cor. 12:9). But self-complacency is fatal. For
self-righteousness there is no remedy. Though self-sufficient and
self-righteous the professing church will shortly be "spued out" by the One
whose name it bears.
Now observe particularly that this "Laodicean"
Epistle is the final one of the series. It sets before us the
last state of the professing church on earth. In keeping with this note
the time-mark here. The Lord speaks of "supping" (vs. 20). It is
eventime. It is the closing meal of the day! The end is at hand. The church
is feasting inside and the Saviour is standing outside. Such was what was
predicted eighteen centuries ago, and such is what we now witness in
Christendom today. Christ is now outside the professing church undesired,
unheard, unknown. And, we repeat, this Epistle is the final one of the series:
there is no eighth which follows it. The Laodicean condition is the
last phase of apostate Christendom. Nought remains but its spueing out. The
very next thing we read of in Revelation after the Laodicean Epistle is -
"After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the
first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which
said, Come up hither" etc. (4:1) which clearly symbolizes the
catching up of the saints. But we turn now to consider -
These Epistles to the seven churches in Asia
(Rev. 1:11) were addressed to churches which were in existence when John wrote
the Apocalypse and therefore their local application was to these
historic assemblies. But that these Epistles have a wider, a prophetic
application and signification is clear from several considerations. In the
first place the number of the churches here addressed-seven-is
significant. There were other churches in Asia besides those addressed, but
they are here ignored. The fact that Christ addressed Himself to seven,
neither more nor less, seems to argue that, in harmony with the uniform
significance of this numeral, a complete outline of something is here
presented. In the second place, there is some "mystery" connected with these
seven Epistles as is clear from our Lord's words in Rev. 1:20. This is further
borne out by the call which is sounded in each Epistle-"He that hath an ear,
let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches"-imitating that they
contain a special message heard only by those who are attent to the "still
small" voice." In the third place, the order of these Epistles (in their
contents) corresponds exactly with the history of the professing church and
this agreement cannot be a mere coincidence, but must be due to Divine design.