Lessons from the seven churches of Revelation: Part 3
Don't get impatient waiting for Jesus, and be careful you don't become luke-warm
So far in this series, we've looked at five of the seven prophetic letters written down by John, from Jesus, in chapters 2 and 3 of the book of Revelation. In this article, we're going to look at the letters to the churches in Philadelphia and Laodicea, and what they have to do with us as the church today. So once again, grab your Bibles or open up http://www.biblegateway.com, and let's get stuck in!
Letter Six: To the church in Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13)
There doesn't seem to be much rebuking needed for the believers in Philadelphia. Jesus says to them "I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name." (Revelation 3:8b). But yet, he still reminds them that he is returning soon. He urges them to "Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown." (Revelation 3:11). So even though the Philadelphians seem to be doing okay compared to the other churches in the area, they still needed to be reminded that Jesus is coming soon, and that they are to hold on to their faith.
It seems kind of strange that Jesus told them he was coming soon, and yet over 1900 years later, we're still waiting for his return. This is because God's concept of time is very different to ours. He is eternal, he existed before the beginning of the world, and he is the creator of time. In the third chapter of his second letter, the disciple Peter says this:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9)
What we can learn: So over 1900 ago, Jesus was coming soon, but 'soon' in God's view, not necessarily in ours. Although we don't know when Jesus will return, his return will be over nineteen hundred years closer to us than it was to the early Philadelphia believers. How much more then, are we to hold on to our faith and prepare for his coming?
Letter Seven: To the church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22)
Laodicea today is one of the most spectacular of the seven archaeological sites; there's two huge outdoor theatres, there's the remains from numerous buildings, and there's a wide paved road lined with columns.
While we explored the city's ruins, our tour guide pointed out something seemingly insignificant. It was the remains of a channel of water which led into the city from Hierapolis. Hierapolis was an area of hot springs, and this had been set up so that the warm water could also be used in Laodicea. However, by the time the hot water travelled to the city of Laodicea, it was lukewarm.
This may be the reason for the image Jesus uses while rebuking the church of Laodicea:
"I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm-neither hot nor cold- I am about to spit you out of my mouth." (v.15-16)
As far as insults go, being told that you are about to be vomited out of someone's mouth is pretty bad. And yet this is what Jesus says about the Christians of Laodicea. They're not refreshing or stimulating, they're good for nothing, nauseating even.
In verse 17 Jesus says "You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked." Laodicea was the richest city in the area, and it seems the Christians have been corrupted into thinking that riches are more important than Christ.
The city was famous for its financial wealth, its fine textiles and for its eye salves. But in place of these physical riches, Jesus instead urges them to "buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness: and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see." (verse 18)
What we can learn: Instead of the things of this world, we are to instead focus on the riches found in Christ, the things of his Kingdom.
The Church Today
So why does Jesus seem to be so hard on the churches, telling them off? We get a bit of an answer in Revelation 3:18:
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.
The reason Jesus rebukes Christians in these places is because he loves him, and wants to see them living for him, and eventually going to live with him forever.
It's exactly the same situation for us. The reason we are rebuked through these seven prophetic letters is because Christ loves us. While Jesus was here on this earth, he said "If you love me, keep my commands." (John 14:15). So are we going to?
Are we going to:
- Repent of the times that we've forsaken our first love?
- Stay faithful to Jesus, even through persecution?
- Be discerning about the false teachers among us?
- Resist the temptation to give in to idolatry and sexual immorality?
- Wake up, and be alive in our faith?
- Hold on to our faith as we look forward to Christ's return?
- Avoid being lukewarm and instead focus on the riches of Christ?
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches." (Revelation 3:22)