Revelation 1:17-20 MEV When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though I were dead. Then He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, though I was dead. Look! I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.
“Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this. The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven candlesticks which you saw are the seven churches.
I recently found myself in a discussion about these letters. Much of the discussion involved how to apply what is written, and whether they were addressed only to the seven churches named or they have application for today. There is a specific objection made on the application of the term “lukewarm.”
Surely these epistles were written to real-first-century local assemblies. Jesus addressed them by name. Jesus words in introducing Himself as the head of these churches includes an application that was present then, and “which will take place after this.” Of course, the rest of revelation is yet future. Given the introduction, Jesus clearly is saying the entire revelation has layered application.
Take the Epistles Seriously
An objection was raised that these seven epistles to the churches have nothing to do with our modern day.
As I stated earlier, these 7 epistles are layered with meaning and nuance. There is application for the period in which they were written, application for the entire end age including today. There are deeper meanings of each letter the can be applied to every local assembly of believers. Each of these bodies would, more-or-less, fit into one of those seven descriptions. These epistles can even be loosely applied to the panorama of the “church age.” That is, these seven churches are chronological descriptions of the universal church since Jesus founded it. The last three are noted as end times bodies. Also noted in the epistles, though it may not be readily discerned… There is always a body of people who would usurp the authority and leadership of Jesus in these churches.
The message that Jesus gave to each body is a report card. Where the church falls short, Jesus assures that such can change direction. He even offers many remedies for that. More importantly, Jesus also speaks directly to those individuals within these bodies, “let him who has an ear.” This demonstrates these may have personal applications, too.
I take the Bible seriously… Even in its seeming offensive applications.
He Who Has an Ear
Revelation 3:14-22 MEV “To the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write:
“The Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says these things: I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of My mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, and have stored up goods, and have need of nothing,’ yet do not realize that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments, that you may be dressed, that the shame of your nakedness may not appear, and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.
“Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline. Therefore be zealous and repent. Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him, and he with Me.
“To him who overcomes will I grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
We come to the major objection that leads to a rejection of the application to individuals and to church bodies of our day. It’s right there… “because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of My mouth.” I’ve underlined one of the words Jesus used.
You see, many folks misapply this verse. They use it to beat up individual Christians. That isn’t how Jesus used it. To apply it that way is incorrect. The proper way to use it is to describe a body of believers. A body of believers that really had no need of anything from Jesus. Lukewarm is not a description of individual believers.
These are letters to churches. Each of the seven addressed, and if the problems weren’t rectified Jesus would leave this church… As a body. Our perspective of history clearly demonstrates this. Local assemblies in Europe have shut their doors. Church buildings are being sold and used for other purposes. This is what happens when a church leaves their first Love, for whatever reason. It begins with drifting away from truth, it progresses in a usurping of the headship of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes the misapplication of lukewarm is a way of shaming and controlling individuals. Nevertheless, a teacher who wishes to use the term to shame and admonish believers in the local fellowship is really stating the fellowship itself is lukewarm. That term may say something about the leadership and may not.
As discussions go, this one has a natural evolution.
Who is the Head?
Church is not a building, at least not in the Biblical idea. Church is not a 501C3 corporation. Biblically, it is always used as a local assembling of believers. The head of which is always Jesus Christ.
Let us view these seven churches from the vantage point of the Head and history. The names of these churches are an indication of their character. There is also an unspoken implication of how the Headship of Jesus has been usurped by the spirit of the age.
Revelation 2:2 MEV I know your works, your labor and your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles, but are not, and have found them to be liars.
Today Ephesus is a Moslem village called Selçuk. At the time of the epistle, it was a central point of Christianity. John, Paul, Peter, Polycarp, and Irenaeus – were all in Ephesus. They were able to test those who claimed to be apostles. The church at Ephesus knew real apostles. Yet, the church with so much history died. We learn something, those who sought to control that church were false apostles.
Revelation 2:9 MEV I know your works and tribulation and poverty (but you are rich). And I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
Smyrna, the martyred church. The church whose name derives from myrrh. The sweet smell used to cover the stench of dead bodies. We know it was Rome who was trying to seize control, the government wanted to usurp the Head.
Revelation 2:14-15 MEV But I have a few things against you: You have there those who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. So you also have those who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
Pergamum, the citadel is said to characterize the Roman Catholic church. After the Roman government tried to cease control of the church, in some ways it did. Christianity was made the official religion of the Roman empire. With it, came a whole new idea to integrate the church into the empire. As history demonstrates, it worked the other way around. The empire entered the church. A hierarchy of religious-political leaders was established which would eventually result in the papacy. This is what Jesus warned about by using the term Nicolaitan. It literally means power over the laity. The clergy usurped the Headship of Jesus.
Revelation 2:20-21 MEV But I have a few things against you: You permit that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, but she did not repent.
Thyatira hints at the sweet scent and sacrifice of labor. This city occupied a favored position on a trade route, the city was home to many trade guilds. Practices in these trade guilds included idol worship and sexual immorality. A woman stepped into lead this body away in spiritual seduction.
Revelation 3:2 MEV Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain but are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfected before God.
Sardis is the embodiment of the reformation period of the church. The deeds of this church were found incomplete, and that body rested in those. In that sense, we can say that carnal Christians wanted control.
Revelation 3:8-9 MEV I know your works. Look! I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it. For you have a little strength, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Listen! I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie. Listen! I will make them come and worship before your feet and to know that I have loved you
Philadelphia, the church of brotherly love! This is the church period denoting the great revivals all over the world. This church had no reprimand from Jesus. We see that is those who say they believe, but do not who were the problem. The unbeliever seeks to usurp Jesus as Head of this church.
Revelation 3:17-18 MEV For you say, ‘I am rich, and have stored up goods, and have need of nothing,’ yet do not realize that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments, that you may be dressed, that the shame of your nakedness may not appear, and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.
Laodicea is the people’s church. This is the church that offers itself in a way to seek the approval of all people. We could call this the seeker sensitive church. The buildings that have every comfort with environments designed so as not to offend anyone’s sensibilities. It is this church that the laity want to usurp Jesus. He says He will spew such out of His mouth. It is much of what we see offered by churches today.
These letters are primarily written to bodies of believers and seemingly have nothing for or against individual people and their salvation. Our perspective of history clearly teaches Jesus very much will remove His presence and blessing away from a local gathering of believers because of their collective spiritual condition. The judgment is to the local body, not the individual or their salvation.
Methinks there is something that convicts in that description. Especially with peoples’ excuses for not attending church today… Or how church should satisfy personal preferences. As the conversation meandered, it was peppered with objections of why not to attend church. It’s true that church attendance doesn’t save. I don’t even think it is required.
Another objection is how the teaching did not appeal, and how there was no real personal application. The words sated were “I already felt I learned better on my own time than a church.” In other words, the teaching really wasn’t advanced enough to satisfy perceived personal need. I can understand that, but I also think it is a dangerous place to be spiritually. Anytime the Bible is openly proclaimed, a believer can be taught. It is God’s word and His Word never returns void, especially to believers.
Other points of interest included his pastor being a she. That is another discussion.
Yes, we are to learn in church, but our time for real learning is in private. It is how we communicate with our Savior. We talk to Him. He instructs us from His Word. That’s not to say you won’t learn something in church from a sermon, but that ought to be supplementary to what happens in your prayer closet.
Given these objections, one can clearly surmise they arise from lukewarm bodies.
What do We Do About It?
We need to be active in whatever local body we find ourselves in.
Ephesians 4:11-16 MEV He gave some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, for the equipping of the saints, for the work of service, and for the building up of the body of Christ, until we all come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, into a complete man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so we may no longer be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the trickery of men, by craftiness with deceitful scheming. But, speaking the truth in love, we may grow up in all things into Him, who is the head, Christ Himself, from whom the whole body is joined together and connected by every joint and ligament, as every part effectively does its work and grows, building itself up in love.
Each of us has been bestowed with a unique set of giftings by God. These are to be used for the building up of the body. This cannot be done if one deprives the local assembly of the usage of their gifts. We are designed to be in fellowship with other believers, and it is the only place where one can mature into a complete man. That term doesn’t exclude the ladies, either.
What is inherently necessary though, is fellowship. There is no other way to ‘grow up’ in the fulness of Christ. Oh sure, we can always hope to have a Damascus Road experience, but those seem to be extremely rare.
When we forsake the assembly… It is a way to deny the headship of Christ.
I know all about kvetching over how church doesn’t meet my felt needs. But it’s not supposed to do that. The worship isn’t for me, it’s for Jesus. The assembly isn’t for me, it’s for the entire body. My comfort ought not be a concern, I have a home.
Instead, of finding a plethora of excuses for not attending a local assembly, why not do it God’s way despite the leadership or direction of the body?
Let us look forward to assembling with our brothers and sisters. Let us be prepared to do it the right way. Be ready to give something away and not seek something to scratch our own itch.
Hebrews 10:23-25 MEV Let us firmly hold the profession of our faith without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to spur one another to love and to good works. Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but let us exhort one another, especially as you see the Day approaching.
There is not much time left. Love you brothers and sisters spurring each other to love and good works!