7B.   Letter To The Angel Of The Church In Laodicea (3.14-22)

 

Matthew Henry writes, “We now come to the last and worst of all the seven Asian churches, the reverse of the church of Philadelphia; for, as there was nothing reproved in that, here is nothing commended in this, and yet this was one of  the seven golden candlesticks, for a corrupt church may still be a church.”[1]

 

(3.14)  And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;

 

1.   “And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write

 

a.   A. T. Robertson writes, “Forty miles south-east of Philadelphia and some forty miles east of Ephesus, the last of the seven churches addressed with special messages, on the river Lycus on the border of Phrygia, near Colossae and Hierapolis, recipient of two letters by Paul (Col 4:16), on the great trade-route from Ephesus to the east and seat of large manufacturing and banking operations (especially of woollen carpets and clothing, Ramsay, Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, p. 40ff.), centre of the worship of Asklepios and seat of a medical school and also of a provincial court where Cicero lived and wrote many of his letters, home of many Jews, called by Ramsay (op. cit., p. 413) “the City of Compromise,” the church here founded apparently by Epaphras (Col 1:7; 4:12), now a deserted ruin, one of six cities with this name (meaning justice of the people).”[2]

 

b.   On the other hand, John Gill maintains that Laodicea means, “the judging of the people.”[3]

 

c.   But yet another commentator on the Revelation, Henry More, declares that the name of the city means “the righteousness of the people,”[4] and goes on to explain that the context of the passage and condition of their circumstances suggests that the derived meaning of the word Laodicea should be understood to be “to judge the people.” Thus, John Gill, who was born 28 years after More’s work was published, agrees with him.

 

d.   It is in this city, noted for its banking, its wool, and its medicines (most notably the eye salve produced there)[5], that the pastor to whom Jesus directs His most scathing denunciation lives and, if it could be called that, serves.

 

2.   “These things saith the Amen

 

a.   To the pastor of this church the Lord Jesus Christ revealed Himself as “the Amen.” Nowhere else in God’s Word is the word “amen” used as a proper name, as it is used here.[6]

 

b.   Please, turn to Isaiah 65.16 and read with me:

 

That he who blesseth himself in the earth shall bless himself in the God of truth; and he that sweareth in the earth shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hid from mine eyes.”

 

c.   Do you see the words “truth” in this verse? The Hebrew words here translated “truth” are translations of this word “amen,” which means truth or verity. In this verse the phrases “the God of truth” could be literally rendered “the God of the amen.” Therefore, when used as a name, as it is in Revelation 3.14, “the amen” emphasizes the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ and His immutability, which is to say His changelessness. Truth does not change, does it?           It is always the same.

 

d.   There can be no doubt that the Lord Jesus Christ, by referring to Himself in this way, is calling this pastor on the carpet, is putting him on notice, is emphasizing to him just Who it is Who has addressed this letter to him. And the significance of this? “According to 2 Cor. 1:20 all the promises of God are fulfilled in Christ; that is, all God’s promises and unconditional covenants are guaranteed and affirmed by the person and work of Jesus Christ.”[7] Let us turn there and read what Paul has written:

 

For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.”

 

3.   The Lord Jesus continues His self-description by saying, “the faithful and true witness.

 

He alone, of all beings, can be perfectly faithful and perfectly true as a witness of God.

 

4.   He then says, “the beginning of the creation of God.

 

a.   This phrase “beginning of the creation of God” refers to an extremely important truth. Pay careful attention here, because this verse is grossly misinterpreted by the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult. The word “beginning” is translated from the Greek word “arch,” which does mean beginning. However, this word is not here to be understood as a reference to the first thing made. Rather, as the underlying support of that which is made. What is being stressed here is Christ’s role as the underlying foundation, beneath the surface, from which a structure gains all of its strength. So, this verse does not detract from the Biblical doctrine of Christ’s deity, as the cultists would suggest, but supports the claim that Jesus is God.

 

b.   This is such an important point that we need to spend some valuable time dealing with the issues raised by this statement. Allow me to paraphrase Albert Barnes[8], the 19th century Presbyterian commentator: “The beginning of the creation of God. This expression is a very important one concerning the rank and dignity of the Savior, and, like all similar expressions respecting Him, its meaning has been much misunderstood. There are only three ways this phrase can be intelligently understood. Either,

 

i.    Jesus was the beginning of the creation in the sense that He caused the universe to begin to exist. That is, that He was the Author of all things, or

 

ii.    He was the first created being, or

 

iii.   He is preeminent over all, and is at the head of the universe.

 

c.   It is not necessary to examine any other possible interpretations, since the only other possible interpretations of this phrase are so foreign to the natural meaning of the words as to need no special refutation.

 

d.   As to the three possible meanings, it may be observed, that the first one, that Jesus is the Author of the creation, and in that sense the beginning, though a true Bible doctrine (John 1.3; Ephesians 3.9; Colossians 1.16), is not in accordance with the proper meaning of the word here used, arch. This word properly refers to the commencement of a thing, not its authorship, and denotes properly primacy in time, and primacy in rank, but not primacy in the sense of causing anything to exist. The two ideas, which run through the word as it is used in the New Testament, are those just suggested, primacy in time and primacy in rank. For the former meaning, primacy in regard to time, which is properly the beginning of a thing, you can examine the following passages where the word occurs: Matthew 19.4; 24.8, 21; Mark 1.1; 10.6; 13.8, 19; Luke 1.2; John 1.1-2; 2.11; 6.64; 8.25; 15.27; 16.4; Acts 11.15; 1 John 1.1; 2.7, 13-14, 24; 3.8, 11; 2 John 13. For the second meaning, primacy of rank, or authority, see the following places: Luke 12.11; 20.20; Romans 8.38; 1 Corinthians 15.24; Ephesians 1.21; 3.10; 6.12; Colossians 1.16; 2.10, 15; Titus 3.1. The word is not, therefore, found in the sense of authorship, as denoting that one is the beginning of anything in the sense that He caused it to have an existence.

 

e.   As to the second of the meanings suggested, that it means that Jesus was the first created being, it may be observed,

 

i.    First, that this is not a necessary meaning of the phrase, since no one can show that this is the only proper meaning which could be given to these words, and therefore the phrase does not prove that Jesus is Himself a created being. If it were demonstrated from other sources that Christ was, in fact, a created being, and the first being that God had made, it cannot be denied that this language would appropriately express that fact. However, it cannot be established from the use of the language found here. In addition, since the phrase used here is susceptible of other interpretations, it cannot be employed to prove that Christ is a created being. To restate: If it was elsewhere proved that Jesus is created you might use this phrase to support that position, but this phrase by itself does not support that position.

 

ii.    However, such an interpretation would be at variance with all those passages which speak of Him as uncreated and eternal, which ascribe Divine attributes to Him, and which speak of Him as being the Creator of all things. Compare John 1.1-3; Colossians 1.16; Hebrews 1.2, 6, 8, 10-12.

 

f.    The third possible meaning, therefore, remains, that He is “the beginning of the creation of God,” in the sense that He is the head or prince of the creation. That is, that He presides over it so far as the purposes of redemption are to be accomplished, and so far as is necessary for those purposes. This is,

 

i.    in accordance with the meaning of the word, Luke 12.11; 20:20, and,

 

ii.    in accordance with the uniform statements respecting the Redeemer, that “all power is given unto him in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28.18), that God has “given him power over all flesh” (John 17.2), that all things are “put under his feet” (Hebrews 2.8; 1 Corinthians 15.27), and that he is exalted over all things, Ephesians 1.20-22. Having this rank, it was, therefore, proper that He should speak with authority to that pastor at Laodicea.

 

g.   To restate and summarize, then, the phrase “the beginning of the creation of God” means that Jesus is describing Himself as being preeminent over all, and that He is at the head of the universe. Thus, He has the right and the authority to tell this pastor what to do.

 

5.  Christ, then, has referred to Himself in three ways in His opening remarks to this man of God. Apparently, this preacher falls very short of the mark in these three areas. Let us review these three areas:

 

a.   “The Amen”  

 

This might suggest that the pastor did not emphasize strongly enough Christ as the truth of God. Perhaps he did not stress that Christ is the way, the truth and the life. Associated with that is Christ’s immutability, His unchangeability, since truth does not change. Can pastors become lax in declaring such truths as these? Oh, yes.

 

b.   “The faithful and true witness” 

 

This might suggest that the man had a problem with Christ being the revelation of God to man, that if you have seen Christ you have seen the Father, and that if you have not seen Christ you have not seen the Father.

 

c.   Finally, “the beginning of the creation of God.

 

i.    This self-description by our Lord might suggest that the pastor in Laodicea needed some reinforcement in the area of the Lord Jesus Christ’s preeminence.

 

ii.    Perhaps this Laodicean pastor is not genuinely converted. It would not be unusual to find an unconverted pastor of a church. Such was frequently the case during the times of the Puritans in England and later on in New England.

 

iii.   I greatly fear that those who seem to be quite successful among us are, in fact, unconverted, relying on the methodology of the marketplace and emotional manipulation rather than the power of God to evangelize and build congregations up.

 

iv.   Each of these references by the Lord in this verse to Himself suggests areas of Bible truth, doctrine, and practice that modern day pastors currently have problems with. As we study this final of the seven letters let us be sensitive and alert to apply what Jesus said to our own situation.

 

(3.15)  I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

 

1.   Folks, this is the most scathing and condemning opening denunciation the Lord Jesus Christ has uttered to date to these seven pastors. He is really tying into this man.

 

2.   The Lord Jesus declared to him, “I know thy works.

 

a.   Perhaps you have already noticed that the Lord Jesus said this to each of the angels of the churches. For some reason, He felt it important to emphasize and remind each man that “I know thy works.

 

b.   Is it not ironic that the same words can have such different meanings to seven different men? To the man who is doing good and serving God faithfully the words “I know thy works” can be profoundly comforting. On the other hand, the fellow who is committing sin or who is not conscientiously obedient dreads such a statement as this.

 

3.   Jesus then observed about him, “that thou art neither cold nor hot

 

a.   Various commentators have their opinions about what is meant by being cold or hot, with hot usually referring to great zeal for the cause of Christ and the work of God, and cold either referring to strong opposition to the gospel or what we might refer to as cold indifference.

 

b.   But the one observation no one seems to make, and everyone seems to overlook, is that the Lord Jesus Christ’s remarks are still being made to an individual, with the pronouns in this verse all being singular. The word “thou” in this phrase coming from the Greek se, which is accusative singular.

 

c.   Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ comes about as close to the idea of pointing His finger of accusation at this Laodicean pastor as you can come with words, yet most commentators completely overlook this rather obvious fact. To me, however, it is like not noticing an elephant in your living room.

 

d.   That said, let us consider the import of His words to this preacher. We have here a pastor of a church who is utterly indifferent. This man does not care one way or the other, about the things of God, about the things of Christ, about the things of the Spirit, about sins and salvation, or about the people who are under his care.

 

e.   This is not to say that this fellow does not seem to have the trappings of spiritual success. This is not to say that he would not work hard to increase the size of his crowd. This is not to say that he will not employ manipulative means to persuade people to do what he wants. This is not to say that he will not make use of coaching techniques and leadership styles to make people feel as though they are receiving spiritual benefit. It is just to say that in his innermost self he does not really give a rip about the spiritual issues involved. He works, all right, but he does not really have a heart for the things of God or for the cause of Christ.

 

f.    How common is this problem? No one knows, for sure, except the Savior. But it frightens me that pastors will delegate that duty to others that is second most important for them to tend to after preaching, guiding the lost to Christ. Who ought to have more experience, discernment, skill and interest in guiding that single person to Christ than the pastor? Yet I, myself, was guilty of collecting a few folks and providing for them some perfunctory training so they could do what I have been called to do and which no one here could possibly do better than I could.

 

g.   So, my experience in the gospel ministry convinces me that this is a very common problem. Having counseled sinners face to face for seven years now, I would have to be a very unconcerned pastor to now turn convicted sinners over to altar workers. Even a huge church, such as Charles Spurgeon pastored for decades, was organized to funnel sinners and hopeful converts into his office for counseling to conversion.

 

4.   In the last phrase of the verse He said, “I would thou wert cold or hot

 

a.   The Lord Jesus Christ prefers those who are either hot or cold. “Hot” comes from a word that means to bubble and boil.[9] The word “zeal” is derived from it. “Cold” means just that. Obviously, these words are a commentary on the man’s spiritual state. Just what is meant, we cannot be exactly are of at this time.

 

b.   Perhaps it is a reference to the fact that other cities in Asia were known for their waters. Hierapolis had very hot, medicinal waters. Colossae had cold, refreshing waters.[10] Perhaps Jesus is indicating that this pastor was providing neither refreshment for the spiritually weary nor healing for the spiritually sick. He was totally ineffective and, thus, distasteful to the Lord.

 

5.   My personal opinion, at this time? I believe that this fellow referred to in Revelation 3.15, who is neither hot nor cold, is so described to illustrate the fact that he is a pastor who is religious without being regenerated. He is a lost man who has somehow worked his way into the pastorate of this church in Laodicea.


[1] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Whole Bible, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), [email protected]

[2] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol VI, (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1930), pages 320-321.

[3] John Gill, The John Gill Library, (Paris, AK: The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., 2000)

[4] Henry More, An Exposition Of the Seven Epistles To The Seven Churches; Together with A Brief Discourse of Idolatry; with Application to the Church of Rome, (London: James Flesher, 1669), pages 142-144.

[5] See footnote for Revelation 3.14 from John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 1997.

[6] J. Vernon McGee, Reveling Through Revelation, Part I, (Pasadena, CA: Thru The Bible Books, 1979), page 34.

[7] See footnote for Revelation 3.14 from John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 1997.

[8] Albert Barnes, Albert Barnes’ NT Commentary, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), [email protected]

[9] Fritz Reinecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 821.

[10] See footnote for Revelation 3.16 from John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 1997.

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