The Call of Jesus for Revival in Asia Minor Part 6 of 6
To learn of the nature of revival demands that one turn to one of two sources. He can seek information form church history. As indicated earlier in this series, to study the events of the Welch Revival in the British Isles, the two Great Awakenings of America, or the Pentecostal Revival of the twentieth century in the United States brings both inspiration and instruction. However, church history, even Pentecostal church history, provides no infallible guide for faith and practice. One must take the Bible as his sole and sufficient guide for faith and practice as to the nature of revival. In doing so, it seems that believers most often turn to the revivals in Old Testament history for help. However, they should look also at the New Testament for instruction on revival.
I have done just that in an earlier article in this series. However, another part of the pages of the New Testament offers rich rewards for study on the subject of revival. Thus I propose that believers of today can experience biblical revival if they heed the calls of Jesus to the seven churches of Asia to spiritual renewal. Following a cooling off period of some forty years, five of the seven congregations stand in need of revival. In Revelation Chapters 2 and 3 Jesus called on believers at Ephesus to return to their first love; on those at Pergamos to rid themselves of false teaching; on those at Thyatira to remove immorality from their ranks; on those at Sardis to arise from spiritual deadness; and on those at Ladocia to stir themselves out of lukewarmness as well as to free themselves from spiritual pride.
Revival Needs in the Church at Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7)
Ephesus was the nearest of the seven cities to the Isle of Patmos to which the apostle John had been exiled when he wrote the book of Revelation. It was one of the greatest cities of Asia in New Testament times. It was also a very religious city, with its temple to the goddess Diana or Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. As an industrial city, it was noted for its purple cloth.
Yet, in this, one of the most worldly and wicked cities of the times, the Lord planted one of the strongest of the churches of the first century. Paul founded it during his third missionary journey. He stayed longer there than in any other place, nearly three years. In its early days its members showed their zeal by burning their books of magic (Acts 19:18, 19). They could have given them away, or stored them, but they went all out for God. By the time of this message, Timothy was likely the pastor of the church at Ephesus. History indicates that all revival movements decline over a period of time. The congregation at Ephesus apparently was no exception. By now the church is no more than forty years old. Yet see how they have already drifted from where they began!
Most of the letters to the seven churches of Asia, as with the one to Ephesus, begin with an appropriate greeting and then contain words of commendation, a message of condemnation, a message of exhortation, an extended invitation, and a promise (Rev. 2:1-7).
Words of Greeting
Jesus addresses the letter to the church at Ephesus, as well as to each of the others, to its “angel,” messenger, pastor (1a). He identifies Himself as the One who holds the seven stars, pastors of churches in His hands. He is further the One who walks among the golden lamp-stands, the churches, the lights of the world. Each of these messages characterize Jesus by one or more of His features in the vision of Revelation Chapter 1 or by one or more of His titles; the characterization corresponds to the special circumstances and needs of each congregation. To those at Ephesus whose love grows cold, He is the one who still cares, holding the hand of their pastor and walking among them.
Words of Commendation
In most every case with these letters Jesus first offers words of commendation before those of condemnation as He calls for revival in the congregation. To begin with, He commends the believers at Ephesus for the works which they did (2, 3). God observed their works, their labor even to weariness, which He mentioned twice in these two verses. They diligently promoted the kingdom of God at home and abroad. Their evangelistic machinery was in full working order. They constantly showed practical Christianity to those near, through works of charity and benevolence. God took note of their motives, “for my name's sake,” (3b). None did his works to be seen of men. Each bore the reproach of the gospel faithfully and carried on. God appreciated their perseverance. He said, “You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary” (3). Much of their toil came from bearing the cross with Jesus. They bore persecution, but none became weary, tired, or fainted. The Master mentions their patience twice here as well as their works.
The Lord also commended those at Ephesus for the standard which they held. They could not bear those who were evil, in doctrine or in deed (2b). They had tested some who claimed to be apostles and found them to be liars (2c). Such is not easy. Many weave Scripture into their message to make it appear true. They frequently preach clever sermons. Often they have such charming personalities that they sweep believers off their feet. Paul warned that such would rise up among believers, acting as wolves in sheep’s clothing (Acts 20:29). At Ephesus false ones were rejected and guilty ones were disciplined. They had no time for sin in the camp. Further, they hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans, (6). They professed Christianity yet lived lives of libertenes. Christ also hated such. They put false preachers to a test to determine what kind of persons they were. They didn't fall for every flashy one who came by. They were not tossed with every wind of doctrine.
Words of Condemnation
In spite of all of this, Ephesus had one mark against it to soil an otherwise unblemished record. This one thing, though, amounted to everything. They had lost their first love (Rev. 2:4). They had left, given up, abandoned their first love. They had “fallen” from a more desirable state (5). It is not clear if they had deliberately done so, or unconsciously, or gradually, and through neglect. At any rate, they had drifted away from an earlier type of love for God. They still had love but of a different kind than at the beginning. Their love for God had gone cold. Their service for God, though with a good motive, was more duty than pleasure now.
Words of Exhortation
The Master called on those at Ephesus to remember “from where they had fallen” (5). Meditation on one’s devotion as a young convert is profitable. One's use-to-bees can serve as worthy goals to return to. Further, He challenged them to repent and to do their first works again (5). In short, “Do deeds (pl) that will again manifest a love like the earliest you had.” Unless they do so, He will remove the candlestick (5). Only He can supply the oil and the fire to keep it burning.
The first love of bride and groom is a thing of beauty. However, as love matures its quality increases. My wife and often remark to each other upon leaving a weddings ceremony, “They think they love each other, don’t they?” Of course they did, but not like they will as their love for each other grows through the years. For the couple as for the believer, it is a mistake to hear Christ’s words here and want to relive a certain feeling in seeking to stir love for Christ. Then, our Lord must have had something more in mind that just renewing emotional feelings as a part of real revival. Some even make the mistake of trying to mimic their spiritual fathers’ reactions in revival.
An Extended Invitation
As with each of the seven letters to the churches of Asia, the one to Ephesus contains an extended invitation, something of a postscript in each of these letters (7). The invitation at Ephesus was to hear and to respond by living a life that would make them over-comers in the world. To His followers many years before Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Thus all believers must live victoriously over the world. Over-comers, then, must never be placed in a separate, elite category.
As in His letters to the other churches of Asia, Jesus made a promise to believers at Ephesus. He said, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (7b). They would eat from the tree of life and regain what was lost in Eden and more. According to Plummer, Randell, and Bott, the Greek word for “life” here is zooa, referring to the “vital principle which man shares with God, not bios, the life which he shares with his fellow-men. The latter word occurs less than a dozen times in the New Testament; the former, which sums up the New Testament, occurs more than a hundred times” (A. Plummer, T. Randell, and A. T. Bott, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” Vol. 22 of The Pulpit Commentary, eds. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950], p. 59).
Earle says that Ignatius, writing some twenty years later, indicated that the church at Ephesus responded positively to this message (Ralph Earle, “Revelation,” Vol. X of Beacon Bible Commentary [Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 1967], pp. 495-96). Its members experienced genuine revival.
Revival Needs in the Church at Pergamos (Rev. 2:12-17)
One might wonder how believers could live with the devil and still be a Christian. Yet, according to Jesus, that was the situation the church at Pergamos was in. Regrettably, they may not have done too well in facing their challenge. Gortner, an early writer in the twentieth century Pentecostal revival, coined a characterizing title for each of these churches. He calls this the Tolerant Church. (J. Narver Gortner, Studies in Revelation [Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1948], p. 34). Indeed, they are much in need of revival at the time the Lord addressed this letter to them.
Words of Greeting
With words of greeting addressed to the church at Pergamos through its messenger, pastor, Jesus identified Himself as the One with the sharp, two-edged sword (Rev. 2:12b). Especially to this compromising church, He is the One with the sword to divide between the church and the world.
"He is the One with the sword to divide between the church and the world."
Words of Commendation
The Lord commended those in this church for their works (13a). They remembered that Jesus said, “. . . let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). It was not always easy to do that in their environment. They lived where Satan’s seat was and yet stayed true to God (13). A cluster of six idol temples, with the largest being dedicated to Zeus, was located in a beautiful grove on a 1,000 feet hill overlooking the city. Two of the others were dedicated to Athena, and Aesculapius.
The environment where one’s house is can be a significant thing to this day. Note that Jesus said, “I know where you live.” Usually, the house one lives in is related to the kind of clothes he wears, the quality of furniture he buys, and the car he drives; at least, most would laugh at sight of a Caddilac parked by a shack! The part of town one lives in determines who his friends are and what his job opportunities will be.
One’s dwelling place can be too comfortable for his spiritual welfare. The Greek here for “dwelling” has the connotation of “settling down” permanently where one lives. Accordingly, Pergamos might be condemned for such an attitude toward living on earth. Some contrast the “earth dwellers” in Revelation with pilgrims who merely “sojourn” on earth. A believer should never get too comfortable in his stay on this planet.
On the other hand, one’s dwelling place can be most uncomfortable. That of the believers was at Pergamos. They had to live with the devil! Therefore the Lord comforts them in having to live in such uncomfortable quarters. They were surrounded by idolatry. Too, Satan’s seat could have been that of a judge there who sentenced many Christians to prison and death in those days. Believers at Pergamos remembered the words of Jesus living in this world. In a prayer He said to the Father, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15).
Christians at Pergamos had a commendable devotion. They were fully devoted to the Name of Jesus. They held it fast (13b). Plummer and associates suggest this indicates a seizing and holding the whole person as in an arrest, in contrast to just grabbing some part of him, such as his hand (p. 62). Each believer held the cause of Jesus in a very personal way, not just as one who has a share in a possession common to many. These were not fair weather Christians. They had remained faithful, even when one among them, Antipas, had been martyred.
Words of Condemnation
However, for those who differed from the ones above, Jesus had words of condemnation. Some at Pergamos held to the doctrine of Balaam who taught Israel to eat things sacrificed to Idols and to commit sexual immorality (14). His teaching became a stumbling block to Israel. It involved a compromising situation where young men went to public celebrations of a religious nature with the young women of a foreign nation. They ended up participating with them in idolatry, even including sexual activity by which the worshiper sought union with the gods and goddesses. Then, contrary to the clear command of Jehovah, they even married the girls. Jehovah’s punishment on the nation for such practices brought the judgment which Balaam could not accomplish through his efforts to pronounce curses on Israel (Num. 31:16; 25:1-3).
Others at Pergamos held the doctrine of the Nicolatians. In Revelation 2:6 Jesus condemns the “deeds” of the Nicolatians, but in 2:15 He rebukes the “doctrine” of the Nicolatians. They taught the abuse of grace to the disregard of moral practices in Christianity. According to Horton, the Nicolatians of the third century “. . . taught that Christians were free to indulge the lust of the flesh. If the first-century Nicolaitans promoted that kind of sin, it is no wonder that the Lord hated their works” (Stanley M. Horton, Ultimate Victory [Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1991], p. 41).
Words of Exhortation
The words of exhortation of Jesus to those at Pergamos included a call for them to deal with these false teachers in their area. The church there must rid itself of those who taught the doctrine of Balaam and those who propagated the teachings of the Nicolaitans. He said, “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Rev. 2:16). They must appropriately discipline those spreading false doctrine in the church or else. As the One with the two edged sword, the Word of God, He will fight against false doctrine. Since some propagated the teachings of Balaam, perhaps He reminds them that it was with a drawn sword that the angel withstood Balaam. Then, contrary to the thinking of some, contending for doctrinal purity does not detract from but rather enhances real revival.
Here as in the letter to the Ephesians the Lord extends His invitation even before giving his closing promise to the believers at Pergamos (17). He invites them to pay close attention to what the Spirit is saying to all of the churches. They should listen with the intent of obeying all that is said.
The promise Jesus made to believers at Pergamos was two-fold. He said, “To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it” (17b). They would enjoy fellowship with Him at a heavenly table where the menu included “hidden manna.” Further, in reward for their devotion they would receive a new name from Jesus. It would be written on a white stone. New and white are important words in the Book of Revelation. Its pages speak of white robes, clouds, horses, and thrones. They also contain information about a new heaven, a new earth and a new Jerusalem where there will be a new song.
The white stone in this verse is likely related to the fact that in that day persons on a jury voted for guilt by placing a black stone on the table while they voted for acquittal with a white stone; accordingly, Horton refers to the white stone as the “stone of forgiveness” (Ultimate Victory, p. 49). Further, victorious athletes were given white stones with their names inscribed to present for food and lodging at public expense. Their new name could be that of one given to a person attaining a new status in a spiritual victory, as with Jacob. This new name hints at the most personal relationship with one’s Lord. Only the two know it. Jesus provides experiences which are meaningful only to the one receiving them. Only the Son heard the Father speak on one occasion (12:28-29). Only Paul heard the Master’s message on the road to Damascus (Acts 22:9). He alone had one experience which the Lord did not allow him to share with others (2 Cor. 12:4).
Revival Needs in the Church at Thyatira (Rev. 2:18-29)
Jesus called on believers at Thyatira to rid themselves of immorality in their ranks (Rev. 2:20).
Biblical revival always results in changed lives. Those swept into the current of the initial New Testament revival at Jerusalem lived such holy lives that they gained favor with men as well as God (Acts 2:47). No doubt this contributed to their success in evangelism. In like manner, the original wave of the twentieth century revival produced a crest of holiness preaching and living.
Words of Greeting
To open the letter to the church at Thyatira its pastor hears its Author declaring that He is the Son of God (Rev. 2:18). He has penetrating eyes like a flame of fire. His feet that can be swift to judgment are like fine brass. In Scripture brass often symbolizes judgment. With a practical application Blaney writes, “His feet of brass denote strength and steadfastness as opposed to the church which could not stand on its own feet but was deceived and swayed by Jezebel” (Harvey J. S. Blaney, “Revelation,” Vol. VI of The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, ed. Charles W. Carter [Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1966], p. 434)
Words of Commendation
Jesus commends those in the church at Thyatira for their love. Apparently their love had not diminished as was the case at Ephesus. Plummer, Randell, and Bott note, “The two Churches are in some respects the exact opposite one of the other. In Ephesus there is much zeal for orthodoxy, but little love; in Thyatira there is much love, but a carelessness about false doctrine” (p. 65). The Lord also took special notice of their service. While recognizing that “service” can refer to different things, Horton writes, “They must also have had a heart for the poor, the downtrodden, the widows, the orphans, and the foreigners. Their Christianity was evident every day of the week” (Stanley M. Horton, Revelation in The Complete Biblical Library [Springfield, MO: The Complete Biblical Library1990], p. 19).
The believers in this church also excelled in their faith and perseverance in the face of adversity (19). Jesus praises them for their works in a noteworthy way, referring to them twice in a single verse of the letter. In His second mention He evaluates their last works as being more than the first. Then their zeal had not waned; rather, they had increased the number of their good works. Adam Clarke notes that such is contrary to what happens in most churches. Then he writes, “. . . it requires a powerful revival to bring them to such a state that their last works shall be more than their first” (Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. VI [Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, n. d.], p. 981).
Earle observes that Jesus praised believers at Thyatira and Ephesus more at length than either those of Philadelphia or Smyrna, though He has no words of condemnation for them. He surmises that this is in view of the Lord’s extensive condemnation which follows in the letter to Thyatira. Following this he suggests, “This is in keeping with sound psychology, which advises saying everything favorable that is possible before calling attention to the other person’s faults” (p. 508).
Words of Condemnation
However, the Lord had a few things against them (20). They concerned their allowing one “Jezebel” to teach false doctrine in their church. She was as wicked as her namesake, the wife of Ahab, in the Old Testament. In the process of her ministry the prophetess was seducing some of God’s servants to engage in sexual immorality. Perhaps she followed the theology of early Gnostics who taught that the human body and all things material are evil. Only things of a spiritual nature can be pure. One of the ethical teachings which followed from that premise declared that what one does with his body was of no consequence. Its proponents said, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food,” as a basis for arguing that God Himself made the human body for fornication (1 Cor. 6:13). Paul responded to their false claims by making it clear that, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord” (13).
Further, the false prophetess convinced those who listened to her that they need not hesitate to eat the flesh of animals which had been sacrificed to idols in the slaughtering process. Believers who belonged to the many trade guilds in the area found temptation to do so while attending their fellowship functions. Apparently Jezebel sought to make their decision on whether to eat or not to eat too simple when, in fact, the issue was one of the most significant in the history of the Early Church. The body devoted its first general council to a discussion of the question (Acts 15:1-31).
The apostle Paul built his ethical teaching on the decision coming out of the assembly. He recognized that there was no moral issue involved in the matter. To the Corinthians he wrote, “We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one” (1Cor 8:4). Then to ceremoniously wave a part of an animal before the image of a god who does not exist cannot possibly affect the quality of the meat in it. Accordingly, he concluded, “But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do” (1 Cor. 8:8). At the same time he recognized that a careless disregard for the feelings of those who came out of idolatry might persuade them to go against their conscience in partaking of such food. In the end they could end up worshiping idols again. Those who contributed to their backsliding would then not only sin against them but also sin against Christ Himself (12).
Words of Warning
Jesus explained that He had dealt patiently with Jezebel. He had shown mercy by giving her time to repent of her sexual immorality, but she had refused to do so (Rev. 2:21). Now, as the One with feet swift to judgment, He will cast her into a bed of sickness (22). Her children will die (23). Those who commit adultery with her will find themselves suffering great persecution, except they repent. They will be rewarded according to their evil works. People in all of the churches will come to know that with His penetrating eyes He searches the minds and hearts of all men, but especially of professing believers.
The Lord has a very different message for those who had rejected the doctrine of Jezebel (24). Because they had refused to follow her into the depths of Satan He would bring no such judgment on them. However, they must continue to hold fast what they have until He returns to this earth again (25).
Jesus has a special promise for those who overcame the temptations of the flesh and devil, if they continue on the same pathway of life until the end. He will give them authority to assist Him in ruling over the nations during a thousand years of peace on earth (26). Speaking of everyone among them He said, “He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery” (27). Horton explains, “The shepherd’s rod was used to break the bones of the enemies of the sheep. The rod of iron will shatter Christ-rejecting nations or peoples just as a pottery jar would be shattered into small pieces” (Revelation, p. 55). He will share in the King’s reign on earth with a similar authority to that which the Father has committed to the Son.
In addition to all of this, the Lord will give to His faithful followers the morning star (28). The planet Venus is known as both the morning and evening star. Its orbit at times brings it closer to the earth than any other planet except the moon. It has the power to reflect light eight times greater than that of the moon. No doubt aware of all of this, Clarke writes, “And as the morning star is that which immediately precedes the rising of the sun, it probably here intends an empire which should usher in the universal sway of the kingdom of Christ” (p. 982). Seeing the star as representing Jesus Himself, Blaney suggests, “If the churches are lamp-stands and their several angels are stars, surely Christ can be thought of as the brightest star of all, ‘the bright, the morning star’ (22:16), the star which ushers in the great morning of the resurrection” (p. 436).
The invitation to the members of the church at Thyatira was simply to “hear” what the Spirit was saying to the churches (29). They should attend carefully to what the Spirit was saying to them and all the churches in Asia. Those who will not hear will be shattered like the nations the Lord referred to earlier in this letter.
Revival Needs in the Church at Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6)
Words of Greeting
Gortner calls the congregation at Sardis “the lifeless church”(p. 49). To such a congregation Jesus identified Himself as the One having the life-giving seven-fold Spirit of God. However, this does not suggest there is some kind of division of the Spirit or within the Trinity. Rather, the “seven Spirits” refers to the seven-fold manifestation of the Holy Spirit. These appear in Isaiah 11:2, 3 as the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, the fear of the Lord, and judgment. To Sardis Christ is also the One who holds the seven stars, the messengers, the pastors of the churches in His hand. No church will ever rise higher on the spiritual plane that its pastor. In bringing revival, in renewing life back to this congregation, its pastor has an awesome responsibility.
Words of Commendation
Words of commendation to the church at Sardis are amazingly few. Jesus declares that He is aware of their works. He also knows that they have a name which they profess to be living up to. However, they appear to be Christian in name only. Their relationship to God has been reduced to the low level of religious ritual. Perhaps even their good works continue as routine rather than from the real life-sustaining love of God. For that reason Jesus said, “I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God” (2).
Words of Condemnation
In a stern rebuke, then, the Lord declares that, though their name declares that they are alive, they are actually dead spiritually. Indeed, life in the church at Sardis appears in three stages. Some there are still much alive. Jesus says, “Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes” (Rev. 3:4). Others still have some spiritual life left, though they are already in the process of dying. Jesus said that they “are about to die” (2). Many others, though, are already dead. Of them the Lord declared plainly, “You are dead” (1). The church appears to have gone so far down the road to backsliding that it has become a mere echo rather that a mighty voice for God in the community. Those of Sardis still had their reputation as a spiritual church, but they had lost their power. They were Pentecostal in form only.
In the early twentieth century revival powerful preachers regularly challenged those who had only an empty profession of faith in the nominal churches. It is possible, though, that by today some of the churches they founded have even less reality in their religion that those whom they targeted! By all means, then, each professing Christian today must examine himself to see if he has settled into a form of godliness minus the power thereof (2 Tim. 3:5)..
Words of Warning
Jesus charged those in the church at Sardis to, “Wake up!” (3). They need to become spiritually alert again. Then they would be aware of the fact that they need to do whatever it takes to maintain what spiritual life they have left and to then seek its complete renewal. “Strengthen what remains and is about to die,” the Lord said (3). Each individual believer most act upon His words first for his own spiritual existence and then on behalf of the fellows around him. As to the alternative Christ declared, “But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you” (3).
Christians at Sardis must also, “Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent” (3). They seem to have forgotten the wonder of what they had received in their initial experiences with God. The memory of what happened to them the day they were born again had faded. After having been gloriously baptized in the Spirit they had settled into some kind of “middle age spread” spiritually. They had failed to “keep on being filled with the Spirit,” as Paul encouraged (Eph. 5:18).
"Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent."
They may also have been drifting doctrinally. They no longer held tenaciously to the life-changing truths of the gospel which they heard preached with power in their early Christian experience. By now the culture about them had a greater influence on them than they had on it.
Even in the ethical area of their lives they had let down. As new believers they hung on to every word that their pastor proclaimed from the pulpit on Sunday. On their jobs and in their homes during the week they made every effort to practice what he preached. Jesus, then, called on them to remember former teaching and once again hold fast to it all (3). It is no surprise that the Lord challenged them to begin the renewal of their spiritual life with repentance (3).
Words of Promise
Again, though, some at Sardis had remained true to their initial commitment to the Lord. They had not defiled their spiritual garments with the filth of the world (4). By no means does the Christian life portrayed in the Bible follow the ups and downs, the “ins” and “outs” that some erroneously conclude unaviodable. One can and should remain steadfast in his devotion to God. Perish the thought that he will more likely “get saved” every summer and backslide during the winter following! Concerning those who had kept their lives clean at Sardis, Jesus declared, “They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy” (4). Further, He promised to provide over-comers with white robes to wear in eternity (4).
Their faithfulness to God left them without the recurring fears of not being right with God which seem to plague far too many believers. Some of the most sensitive Christians are tormented with the “spirit of bondage again to fear” (Rom. 8:15). Paul declared that these feelings do not come from the Lord. Such ones need desperately to hear the Lord when He said, “I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels” (5).
The invitation which closes each of the seven letters to the churches of Revelation appears here again. Jesus said, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (6). Among the things which hinder one from hearing the voice of the Lord are spiritual deafness, indifference, being too busy in life, preoccupation with “things” in life, and even familiarity with the message.
Revival Needs in the Church at Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22)
Laodicea was located about 100 miles inland from Ephesus, the most distant from Patmos of the seven cities of these churches. The city was named by Antiochus II for his wife Laodice. It was an important trade center, situated where three roads met. The city was an industrial center which produced a Phyrigian powder as an eye salve for treating inflamation, which it marketed world-wide. The town was also famous for making glossy, black woolen outer garments. After being destroyed by an earthquake in AD 60, it declined help from Rome and proudly rebuilt itself with its own wealth. Located there was also an interesting hot spring which produced lukewarm water. The church in the city was probably founded by Epaphras (Col. 4:12). Archippus may have been its pastor at the time John worte (Philemon 2). A famous church council took place there in AD 361.
Words of Greeting
Greetings to the church at Laodicea come from the faithful and true Witness (Rev. 3:14). To a church that was ignorant of the facts about its condition, He is the Amen, the true One, the truth. This is the only time in Scripture Jesus bears this Name. How good that God has not left His people without a witness in this world! Jesus is also the beginning, Beginner of the creation. The Arians mistakenly thought this to say He was a created Being. More recently the Jehovah's Witnesses concluded the same. Rather, He is the source of the creation.
The Condition of the Church
The church at Laodicea is the only one of the seven churches which receives no commendation from Jesus. Instead, after the greeting He focuses on the condition of the church. Regrettably, it is one of indifference (15). Spiritually speaking, the church was neither cold nor hot, but rather lukewarm. Its members never got excited for anything nor stirred up against any thing. Theirs was an attitude of live and let live. They seemed to say, "We're getting along alright, so why rock the boat?"
Their condition was also one of complacency. The believers at Laodecia were self-satisfied. They said, "We are rich and have need of nothing" (17). They needed to learn “how to abound” as Paul did (Phil. 4:12). Immediately upon the first successful docking of the United States spaceship on the moon, I heard the tv commentator declare, “Having accomplished this, we can now do anything we set our mind to.” It is bad enough for Americans and Laodicians to be in the spiritual condition they are in, but not to realize it is even worse.
Their condition was also one of spiritual pride. That was one of the most notable sins of the church of Corinth too. Though they thought they had need of nothing, actually the condition of believers at Laodicea was one of extreme need (17b). They were blind to their condition. They were miserable, pitiable. They were poor. They didn't have sufficient clothing to wear. Any one of these things is bad, but when you have all of them you are in a terrible condition indeed! Earle writes, “The church was poor in a wealthy banking center, blind in a community that had an excellent medical school, and naked in a place famous for its manufacture of the highest quality woolen garments" (p. 526).
The Attitude of the Master
In response to such conditions of the church at Laodicea the Master’s attitude was one of stern rebuke. He has no words of praise nor commendation whatever for this church. This is the only church among the seven here with nothing to praise. Instead, He says frankly, “You are lukewarm. You make me sick to my stomach. I am about ready to spew, vomit you out of my mouth” (16). The word for “emetic” medicine indicates one that is used to induce vomiting. It comes from the Greek word for “spew” in this passage. It is clear from what He said that the Lord despises lukewarmness in a believer’s relationship to Him as many hate lukewarm coffee. Accordingly, each professing Christian must examine himself to see if he has cooled off in his relationship to the Lord, and, if so, he must get back close to the flame again.
At the same time, the Lord’s attitude was one of love and patience. His stern rebuke came from a heart of love. He explained, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline” (19). He does not just diagnose, but He offers remedies. His patience caused Him to continue to offer them restoration and fellowship. Jesus amazed the world when he said to the Laodiceans, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (20). He yet stands and the door knocking. He is eager to eat, to dine with believers in true communion. Individuals may respond, even if the group does not.
Further, the attitude of the Lord is one with sound advice. He counseled them on how to correct their situation (19b). He advised that they should “buy” (for free) from Him what they needed (18). What they needed included pure gold, white raiment (in contrast to the black of the area), real eye-salve, better than their world-famous variety.
Jesus offers a unique promise to this church. As Clarke says, He makes the greatest of all promises to the worst of all churches (p. 987). He said, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne” (21). The mother of James and John asked for a similar thing for her sons (Matt. 19:18). However, her motive was apparently somewhat less than noble. The Lord responded differently to her than to the Laodiceans.
Even here, to receive the promise one must be an overcomer. But, how does one overcome and receive the promise? Are over-comers a special category of believers? In New Testament times the over-comer was the victor, the winner, the conqueror. By faith all believers may overcome (1 John 5:4). In fact, their Captain has promised elsewhere to make them “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:37).
Here as elsewhere Jesus ends his letter to the Laodiceans with a plea for its members to heed the voice of the Spirit (22). One can hope that they responded favorably and experienced the revival they so sorely needed at the time.
Then it is clear that believers of today can experience biblical revival if they heed the calls of Jesus to the seven churches of Asia to spiritual renewal. Following a cooling off period of some forty years, five of the seven congregations stood in need of revival. In Revelation Chapters 2 and 3 Jesus called on believers at Ephesus to return to their first love; on those at Pergamos to rid themselves of false teaching; on those at Thyatira to remove immorality from their ranks; on those at Sardis to arise from spiritual deadness; and on those at Ladocia to stir themselves out of lukewarmness as well as to free themselves from spiritual pride.
Some interpret these messages to the seven churches of Asia from the viewpoint of the church age theory. They seek to make the characteristics of each of these churches those of a specific period in church history as it evolves chronologically. According to the theory, believers now live in the Laodecean church age. However, these were literal churches with differing characteristics the like of which have existed throughout church history. Today’s Church, then, has segments with the same needs of revival in various parts of the world as those of the churches of Asia toward the end of the first century. Then all congregations and each individual believer should take these messages to heart.
BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR THE SERIES
Autrey, C. E. Renewals before Pentecost: How God’s Spirit Revitalized His People in Old Testament Times. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1968.
Baker, Ernest. The Revivals of the Bible. London: The Kingsgate Press, 1906.
Beall, James Lee. The Adventure of Fasting. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming Fleming H. Revell Company, 1974.
Blaney, Harvey J. S. “Revelation,” The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, Vol. VI. Ed. Charles W. Carter. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1966.
Cairns, Earl E. An Endless Line of Splendor: Revivals and Their Leaders from the Great Awakening to the Present. Weaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1986.
Clarke, Adam. Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. VI. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, n. d.
Earle, Ralph. “Revelation.” Vol. X of Beacon Bible Commentary. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 1967.
Ellison, H. L. “I and II Chronicles.” The New Bible Commentary. Ed. Francis Davidson. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953.
“Fast Claims Pastor’s Life.” Springfield (MO) Leader-Press, 9 June 1952], Sec. 1, p. 1, Col. 4.
Finney, Charles G. Revival of Religion. Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1868.
Gingrich, Gerald Ira. Protestant Revivals Yesterday and Today. New York: Exposition Press, 1959.
Gortner, J. Narver. Studies in Revelation. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1948.
Hall, Bert H. Wesleyan Bible Commentary, Vol. III. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969.
Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. I. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, n. d.
Horton, Stanley M. Revelation in The Complete Biblical Library. Springfield, MO: The Complete Biblical Library1990.
. Ultimate Victory. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1991.
Jones, Bruce. “Real Repentance.” Moody Monthly, Oct., 87, pp. 21-23.
Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. Revive Us Again: Biblical Insights for Encouraging Spiritual Renewal. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1999.
Olford, Stephen F. Heart-Cry for Revival: Expository Sermons on Revival. Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revel Company, 1962.
Orr, J. Edwin. The Second Evangelical Awakening, rev. ed. London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, LTD, 1964.
Plummer, A., T. Randell, and A. T. Bott. The Revelation of St. John the Divine, Vol. 22 of The Pulpit Commentary. Eds. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950.
Sawyer, Robert L. “I and II Chronicles.” Beacon Bible Commentaries. Vol. 2. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 1965.
Smith, Wilbur M. The Glorious Revival under King Hezekiah. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishers, 1937.
Swim, Roy E. Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. IV. Kansas City, KS: Beacon Hill Press, 1966.
Towns, Elmer. Ten Largest Sunday Schools. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975.
. Fasting for Spiritual Break Through. Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1996.
Towns, Elmer, and Douglas Porter. The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever. Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications, 2000.
Whittaker, Colin C. Great Revivals [Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1984.