Laodicea and Conditional Security [Rev 3:14-22]

All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.


Introduction

Many believe that at the time of the writing of Revelation, those in the church of Laodicea were believers who were merely out of fellowship with Lord — truly saved, but worldly. That belief is based on the position that true born-again believers can never lose their salvation. While it’s true that this was a church that had genuine Christian roots, I believe what Jesus reveals in this passage of Revelation is, that they had drifted in their faith to the point of unbelief by the time this book was written. They became an apostate church. The Apostle Paul himself expressed concern for this church in Colossians 2:1-8.

Therefore, I believe that Jesus is addressing a church of unbelievers, not Christians who were just out of fellowship with God. I provide my reasons for that in this study. My objective is to provide a case for Conditional Eternal Security, that true believers can fall away from their faith in Christ and forfeit their salvation.
Revelation 3:14-22
14 And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God:


“the Amen”

Amen: Trustworthy, firm, true, truly, certain, faithfulness, surely.

Means closely the same thing as the next phrase:

“the faithful and true witness”

By Jesus opening up this address with this statement about Himself, He may have been alluding to the fact that they were not a “faithful and true witness.” Thus it served as a rebuke to this church.

Being the “Amen, the true and faithful witness,” the Laodiceans could be certain that what He is about to say to them is the truth and will be fulfilled. In the broader scope of Revelation, we can be certain that what He reveals in this book will surely come to pass. As the Son of God, He knows all. He knows the truth. He is the all-knowing witness to the truth. He is, Himself, the truth (John 14:6) Thus whatever he says, we can be certain of its trustworthiness. His “Amen” is His agreement to the truth.

As followers of Christ, we too are to be faithful witnesses to the truth. We need to be faithful to present Christ and His word accurately to a world that needs Him. Accordingly, we need to be not only diligent students of God’s Word, but to be diligent in living it out in our lives for His glory.

“the beginning of the creation of God”

To begin with, this does not refer to the creation of God Himself! He has no beginning. He has always existed, and always will. It also doesn’t refer to the creation of Christ, who is Himself, God, the Second Person of the Trinity.

So what does this unusual statement mean? I believe Jesus is talking about God’s creation of all things, namely the universe and everything in it. He refers to Himself as the beginning of all that. In other words, all creation has its beginning with Him as Creator God, that He is the source of it (Col  1:15-19).

15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
16 So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of my mouth.


“I know thy works”

Jesus knew their works, and none them good. Jesus has nothing positive to say about this church. The works they had did not match what they professed, assuming they professed Christ at all. The works we do and the kind of life we live, reveal whether our faith is genuine or not. Those who are truly saved, will be characterized by faithfulness. The people in this church were not faithful. This is a church that had a true Christian beginning (Col 2:1; 4:13-16), but eventually slipped away into apostasy.

“I would thou wert cold or hot”

Bible commentators commonly believe that Jesus had the lukewarm water supply of the city in mind in this passage. It was neither cold nor hot. It was also believed to contain minerals that made the water taste terrible — perhaps even making them sick.

This was a church that was neither cold nor hot regarding their spirituality. They were “lukewarm.” Jesus hated their lukewarmness, and because of that He said that He would “spew them out of His mouth.”

So what does all this mean? Why would Jesus prefer that they be either “cold” or “hot?” Why would being cold spiritually be better than being lukewarm? We can understand why He would want His people  to be on fire for Him, but to be cold? Why? Because those who are lukewarm for Christ, are Christians in name only. They profess Christ as their Savior, but they don’t follow Him as Lord and King of their lives. They may go to church and make a verbal profession, but there is a lack of genuine faith and conviction about Christ, a lack of sincere commitment to following the ways of Christ. These would be false believers — those who are deceived about their salvation. They’ve gotten into a comfortable lifestyle of believing in Christ with their mind, but living a self-willed, worldly lifestyle with their heart. They’ve fallen into the trap of “easy-believism” that is so commonly taught from pulpits today. It’s a gospel message that says, “believe in Jesus as Savior, but don’t worry about following Him as Lord of your life right now. That may come later.” They may not word it quite like that, but that is the implication and substance of their message.

Those who teach that type of gospel, believe that a person may follow Jesus as Lord someday, or he or she may not. In their belief system, it doesn’t matter. In their view, as long as someone receives Christ as Savior, as long as they through that door of “salvation,” it doesn’t matter how they live their life after that. They separate Christ the Savior from Christ the Lord, believing and teaching that the Lordship of Christ has nothing to do with one’s salvation. That’s a lie! That’s not what the Bible teaches. It was Christ the Lord who died on the cross for our sins, who became our Savior. Jesus doesn’t separate Himself as many try to do. When one receives Christ as Savior, it must be in recognition of His authority and with a sincere surrender to that authority. When a person comes to faith in Christ, it’s with the understanding that they’re choosing to follow a new Master, a new way of life, that they’re choosing to live as a follower of Christ.

That’s the faith that saves! Furthermore, the faith that got us saved must keep us saved. True faith is characterized by a sincere devotion to the Lordship and Kingship of Christ. One cannot come to faith in Christ and true salvation at one point, and then at some point down the road decide they no longer want Jesus ruling their lives. That’s not the same faith that got them saved. What got us saved must keep us saved. We can’t change the definition and substance of saving faith in midstream and still expect to have salvation. It doesn’t work that way. True saving faith is an enduring faith, one that endures throughout our lives — which again, is revealed to be genuine through a life that is sincerely devoted to Jesus and His ways.

The people in the church of Laodicea had a good beginning in Christ, but gradually fell away from following Him. They became Christians in name only. They were at this point, at the time of the writing of this book, likely deceiving themselves into thinking they were saved. But their trust in Christ was replaced by their trust in riches. It was the wealth of the world that became their god. They had come to believe that they could have both — profess Christ as Savior while enjoying the pleasures of the world. That’s why Jesus didn’t want them lukewarm. That’s a very dangerous place to be, because it deceives. It places a person in a false sense of security about their salvation.

Furthermore, in this lukewarm state, people not true representatives of Christ. Instead, they’re a bad testimony. They don’t represent Him as true followers of Christ. They present a false picture of someone who knows Jesus and walks with Jesus. The world looks at the lives of people such as these Laodiceans, who profess to be Christians, and they think that’s what a follower of Christ is. Jesus does not want people representing Him like that. He doesn’t want people professing to know Him, and then live in a manner that dishonors His name.

Accordingly, Jesus would rather a person be “cold,” because then they won’t be identifying themselves with Him, while living a life that dishonors Him. They do damage to the cause of Christ by professing one thing but living another. They don’t fulfill the purpose to which we’ve been called as true believers. Jesus doesn’t want people presenting a false picture of the life we have in Him.

On the other hand, those who are “hot,” not only profess Christ, but live a life that is genuinely Christian, as those who honor Christ in all they say and do. They present an accurate picture of someone who knows Him and walks with Him. They are like whom Jesus named by name, “Antipas My witness, My faithful one” (Rev 2:13). These are the one’s who fulfill the purposes of Christ and advance His Kingdom in the world.

Therefore, when Jesus says of those who are “lukewarm,” that He will “spew them out of His mouth,” we can properly understand Him to mean that they make Him sick – in a manner of speaking. This is a picture of the bad water of this city, or like the bad water Elisha healed (2 Kings 2:19-22) — or of food poisoning. When we drink bad water or eat bad food, it can make us vomit. It’s not compatible with our body. Thus we see that these Laodiceans were unhealthy spiritually, and it made Jesus sick. The life they lived was not compatible with the Christ they professed.

When Jesus said that He would “spew them out of His mouth,” it likely also meant that judgment was coming to them unless they repented.

17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked:

The church in Laodicea was a rich church. So what they said about their financial status was true. However, Jesus informed them that what they viewed as wealth, had no value at all as it related to their spiritual condition. Their trust in Christ had been replaced by trust in riches. Jesus uses very descriptive language in describing where they were spiritually. Note the words He used: wretched, miserable, poor, blind, naked. These are not terms that describe true believers, especially the last three: poor, blind and naked. Note how Jesus Himself defines these terms in the next verse:

18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich; and white garments, that thou mayest clothe thyself, and that the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest; and eyesalve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see.

poor – “buy of me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich”

Jesus is referring to the “gold” of salvation, for He says that those who buy it from Him will “become rich.” He could only be talking about spiritual riches that are obtained through faith Him — not of the temporary material sort like they were trusting in, but of the kind that lasts forever.

In regard to being “refined by fire,” just as fire purifies gold of all the dross, so are we purified in Christ. The dross of sin is removed, and we are presented unto God as spiritually pure in His Son. Thus Jesus is talking about true salvation, which the Laodiceans did not have. They gave it up. They walked away from the faith. They gave up spiritual riches for material riches.

There is a question about His use of the word “buy,” because salvation isn’t bought (worked for), it’s a gift that is freely received by faith (Ro 6:23; Eph 2:8-9). Jesus probably had Isaiah 55:1 in mind, and saying that salvation is bought with nothing, that it is indeed, a free gift that can’t be bought:

NASB – “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

So then, what Jesus is really telling them is to put true faith in Him. However, true faith is revealed by faithfulness. Therefore, the true life of faith is a life of sacrifice, which would equate to “buying.” There is indeed a price to pay for being a follower of Christ in the world. The image of gold being refined by fire, is one of proving. In other words, it’s a picture of salvation being proved to be genuine. The fire of life reveals of what sort our faith is. Just as the dross is removed and the gold is clearly revealed, so is our salvation revealed by the life we live. True faith is proved or revealed through a life that is committed to following the ways of the One we profess to believe in. The removal of our old life reveals the spiritual gold of our new life in Christ.

blind –  “eyesalve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see”

This can only refer to salvation. The people of Laodicea were spiritually blind. We are blind to spiritual truth until the Holy Spirit reveals it to us (2 Cor 4:4; 1 Jn 2:11; 1 Cor 2:12-14; Acts 26:18). Though their eyes were at one time opened to the truth, they had become blinded by the darkness of sin. And of course, this never happens overnight, it’s a gradual process. I might add that I believe it’s also rare.

What I think is even more rare, is that an entire church can fall back into darkness. But there is no doubt that this is what happened to this church. They needed the “eyesalve” of truth to reopen their eyes. Apparently, false teaching was allowed into their assembly, just as Paul was fearful of (Col 2:1-8). It had a devastating effect. The influence of false teaching and the influence of their riches, led the whole assembly of believers into darkness. The leaders of this church allowed false teaching to enter their assembly, and never did anything about it. It escalated from there. They were not faithful shepherds. Irresponsible leaders who don’t protect their (the Lord’s) flock, will surely give an account.

Many object that once our eyes are open to the truth, there’s no way we can ever become blind again. First of all, that idea is countered by a great many scriptures, including the one before us. Second, the idea of someone going blind after seeing, shouldn’t be so foreign to us. This is patterned for us by life itself, that people are rarely born blind, but usually become blind.

Furthermore, in every place of the New Testament where spiritual blindness is mentioned, it always refers to the unsaved. This is especially clear where Jesus Himself used the term. In every instance He was talking about unbelievers. Yet, this church is one of the seven churches (symbolic of the whole Church) that Jesus addresses. He included them because they were once a true Christian church (Col 2:1; 4:13-16). We can all agree on that. Thus it’s quite reasonable to interpret Jesus as referring to unbelievers who were once true believers. To make the argument that they were true Christians at this point in time, but simply out of fellowship with the Lord, is very weak. It doesn’t take in the the whole picture that is given to us here. Indeed, this whole passage presents our security in Christ as conditional — conditioned on a life that reflects genuine faith. True faith in Christ will always produce the fruit of salvation.

Therefore, if a Christian as a wonderful beginning in Christ, where their life is consistent with their profession, but eventually falls back into a lifestyle of self-seeking and sin – and stayed there – then we can come to no other conclusion, but that there was an loss of sincere faith in Christ. Genuine faith always follows what it believes to be true.

naked – “white garments, that thou mayest clothe thyself, and that the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest”

Jesus said that they needed “white garments” to clothe their nakedness — the “shame of their nakedness.” We clothe our bodies against indecent exposure, to present our bodies to others in a decent manner. It’s shameful to do otherwise. The shame of their spiritual nakedness was exposed to the Lord. They may have fooled some Christians, but they didn’t fool Jesus. He knew the truth about them. They needed the “white garments” of salvation to cover them up. That these white garments refer to salvation is made abundantly clear in several places in this book (Rev 3:5; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9,13,14; 19:6-8,14). If they were true believers, they would not need these garments of salvation.

Were there any true followers of Christ left in this church? We can’t say for sure, but in light of the fact that Jesus mentions the few believers that were left in Sardis (Rev 3:4) and doesn’t mention any here, it seems unlikely.  

I should also note that there were, quite likely, people in this church who were never saved to begin with. In fact, by this time, that may have been the case with most of those who made up this assembly in John’s day.  However, to get to the place where this church was spiritually, it seems obvious that Christians must have fallen away from the faith – one by one – while true believers left the church as they saw what was happening among them. I believe it’s a combination of those two things that help explain the decline of this church.

19 As many as I love, I reprove and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

Contrary to what some believe, Jesus loves every individual that comes into the world. It’s an inherent attribute for Him to love, for He is love (1 Jn 4:8). He also “reproves” and “chastens” (disciplines) whom He loves. Now, for sure, we normally view the reproving and chastening of the Lord as applying to believers (He 12:3-14). But we need to understand that Jesus is addressing a church that has genuine Christian roots. He’s addressing a church that began with an assembly of true followers of Christ, who gradually and eventually abandoned true faith. So it seems clear that He is viewing them as a child gone astray — as they truly were. We thus see the Lord reproving them in this address. In what form the “chastening” of this church came, we have no way of knowing.

When a believer strays from the faith, as a loving Father, God “reproves,” and “chastens” (disciplines) him or her, rather than bringing judgment upon them. He instructs them to “be zealous” and “repent.” God gives a person who has fallen from grace plenty of time to repent of their sins. He works in their heart to lead them back into a right relationship with Christ, and He will continue to do so until he or she makes a final decision in their heart to turn away from Christ and the Christian faith. I believe at that point, they’ve fallen into total apostasy, to where there is no way back. At that point, they’ve fallen under the judgment of God. Until a person gets to that point, the opportunity to repent is always there. As long as a person has the desire to turn back to Jesus, forgiveness and restoration is always available. And it was still available to those in the church of Laodicea. Collectively, there needed to be church-wide revival, beginning with its leaders — for as the leaders go, so go the people.

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.

Many claim that this is an invitation to believers, rather than unbelievers, and therefore, insist that it shouldn’t be used as part of the gospel message to the unsaved. But as we’ve seen, I think Jesus clearly identified whom He was addressing, that being the unsaved. Therefore, it’s perfectly proper to show this invitation of Christ to someone we’re sharing the gospel message with.

While it’s true that Jesus may be directly referring to the “door” of this church, I believe He was using it symbolically to refer to the door of their hearts. Merely opening a church door doesn’t get anyone saved. Opening the door of one’s heart, does, for it’s in the heart where salvation occurs.

Jesus knocks on the door of every heart who hears the gospel message. He draws all people to Himself (John 12:32) through creation, through our conscience, and through His written Word (Ps 19:1; Ro 1:18-20; Ro 2:15; Ro 10:16-17). When the Holy Spirit opens one’s spiritual eyes and spiritual ears as the message of Christ is being presented, that is the “knock” and “voice” of Jesus calling them to salvation. When a person opens the door to Him, He will fulfill His word to “come in to him,” where they will, together, enjoy wonderful fellowship (“will sup with him, and he with me”).

The voice of Jesus is resistible, contrary to the teaching of many.  This verse alone makes that clear. It’s not enough to simply “hear,” one must also “open.” And one has to hear in order to open. But as Jesus reveals, not everyone who hears will open. Jesus said that if anyone opens the door to Him, He will come in to them. If anyone hearsHis voice andopens the door, He will come in to them (to be their Lord and Savior). So clearly, one can hear without opening.

21 He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne.

In the context of all that we learned about this church, this wonderful promise is to those who “overcome” their unbelief and return to Christ in sincere faith.