The Laodicean Message
by E.H. ‘Jack’ Sequeira
You will notice that our study this time is an introduction. I want to leave a foundation today, and the first thing I would like to say about this subject is the importance of the study. First of all, the book of Revelation is a prophetic book; in fact, it compliments Daniel in dealing with last day events. A lot of the symbols of Revelation are from Daniel. So when you hear or read about Babylon, the great city that is fallen, it is linked with the history of the city of Babylon that fell and is mentioned in Daniel.
Now I would like you to turn to Revelation 1, and there are two statements there that I want you to notice as we tackle this subject. Revelation 1, and in verse 1 we are told that this book is:
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him...
So God gave a revelation to Christ:
...to show his servants [i.e., His church] what must soon take place.
So this is a prophetic book; its known as the Apocalypse, because its dealing with last day events, just like Daniel. And in verse 3 a statement is made that we need to take note of:
Blessed is the one who [number one] reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who [number two] hear it and [number three] take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
In other words, this book is dealing with last day events. So it is an important subject that we are covering; we are dealing with only one aspect of the book of Revelation: the Laodicean message.
Now I want you to look at some Ellen G. White comments and you will notice that the Laodicean message is vitally connected with the doctrine of Righteousness by Faith. Look at the statement found in 7BC 964:
The Laodicean message has been sounding, take this message in all its phases and sound it forth to the people wherever providence opens the way. Justification by faith and the Righteousness of Christ are the themes to be presented to a perishing world.
So she links the Laodicean message with Justification by faith and the Righteousness of Christ. The next statement, of course, reminds us that in a special way this message is applicable to us [7BC 961]:
The message to the Laodicean church is highly applicable to us as a people. It has been placed before us for a long time but has not been heeded as it should have been. When the work of repentance is earnest and deep, the individual members of the church will buy the rich goods of heaven [the three goods that have been offered to us in the counsel to Laodicea].
Now I want you to notice that:
But let us, first of all, look at two very important rules of interpretation, because weve got to go Biblically. These are rules weve already touched on when we dealt with Daniel, but Im going to review it in case some of you didnt see it.
Both Daniel and Revelation are prophetic books that deal with last day events. They are prophetic books that personally are concerned that focus on the last day events. As I mentioned before, and Im going to repeat it, there are four schools of thought concerning how to interpret both these books. We as a church uphold what is known as the Historicist position. This is the position that was promoted by the Reformation; so we are of the Reformation line, in terms of interpreting Daniel and Revelation. The other two are Preterist and Futurist, and then theres a third one called Idealist. Now let me explain each one of them quickly. Lets start with the Historicist.
The Reformers believed that both Daniel and Revelation were books that revealed the history of the world and the Christian church beginning at the time of the writers, i.e., with Daniel, about 600 years before Christ, and with John, about 100 years after Christ. They begin there and they give a continuous account of history, ending with the last day events.
If you follow this school, this line of thought, it interprets the little horn of Daniel and the Antichrist of Revelation as being the Papacy and the fulfilment of these two symbols.
Now you can imagine that the Roman Catholic church did not like this. So how did they counteract this interpretation? They came up with two different schools of thought. The Preterist teaches that all the prophecies of Revelation and Daniel were fulfilled within a short period of time of the writers.
For example, by the second century B.C., all the prophecies of Daniel were fulfilled. By the third century A.D., all the prophecies of Revelation were fulfilled. Which means that the papacy was not included in the prophecies; so the Preterist view helped the Catholic Church to escape from being identified with the Little Horn and the Antichrist.
The Futurist, which is also a Roman Catholic interpretation of the prophecies, says that some of the prophecies were fulfilled in Daniels and Johns time, and others will be fulfilled at the end of church history, and in between that time there is a gap. And, of course, that in-between period is the history of the Roman Catholic church; that is not included, they say.
Now, I can understand the Roman Catholics trying to use these two schools of interpretation to defend themselves. But the tragedy is that gradually the Protestant churches have accepted these views, so that today there is no denomination that upholds the Historicist view except the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We are the only ones, as a denomination, that upholds the Historicist interpretation of Daniel and Revelation.
Most Protestants now take the Futurist and Preterist interpretation. And this gap theory, which includes, for instance, the 70 weeks, they say 69 weeks were fulfilled in Daniels time, the 70th week will be fulfilled at the end of time, and theres a gap. Those who believe in the rapture teach that, the Dispensationalists teach that. So we are kind of unique. But if you look at these two books, you will see that they are historical. The Historicist is a very clear approach.
I would like to say a thing about the idealistic view. It believes that the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation are not prophecies; theyre simply symbols revealing spiritual truths. Now this view is held by the liberal theologians; but there are now conservative Christians, including Adventists, who are beginning to follow this. One of them, of course, is Desmond Ford. His concept of the Apotalysmatic principle is based on this view. I am reading a statement from his magazine that had a series of studies on Revelation. Ford believed that the coming of Christ could have taken place at any time, any time during the New Testament time onwards. So he makes this statement:
The fact that Christ could have returned in Johns generation means that Johns books sets forth certain basic events only. [And hes dealing with the book of Revelation.] The major themes of Revelation are the Judgement, and Second Advent, and the Great Tribulation, and warning message before the Advent.
Therefore the book necessarily concentrates on broad themes such as witnessing, persecutions, reformatory judgments, and warnings, the final outpouring of divine wrath prior to the restoration of all things. To search for prediction of specific minor and local events in history is to miss the significance of the whole.
What hes saying is this: that the prophecies of Revelation do not apply specifically to any point of history. They have been repeated many times. During Johns day they were repeated, during history they were repeated, and, in our day, in a greater sense, they will be repeated. Therefore, he says, the book of Revelation is not pinpointing certain events that will take place in history. Really what this does is water down the books of Daniel and Revelation. It gives it just general ideas, general themes that will repeat themselves many times. There are many Adventists who are beginning to accept this.
I believe, folks, that the Historicist approach, which the Reformers were proclaiming, was the right approach, and this is the approach that I am going to take in dealing with the book of Revelation.
Now this brings me to the second principle, and its called the principle of recapitulation or parallelism. Both Daniel and Revelation repeat the histories of the world over and over again; there are parallel passages. For example, Daniel 2, 7, 8, 9, 11, and 12 are parallel passages. They are repeating the same history but they are approaching it from different angles.
Now the book of Revelation is doing the same thing, except it comes from the angle of sevens. You have the message of the seven churches, you have the seven seals, you have the seven trumpets. They are all dealing with the same period of time but each message is dealing with a different issue.
In other words, the seven churches, the seven seals, the seven trumpets, are covering the same periods of time but from different angles. Now we are going to look in this study only at the seven churches to get the context, because the first thing we need to look at is the context. What is God trying to bring across in the messages to the seven churches?
If you look at the messages to the seven churches, you will find that there is a common thread all through the seven churches messages. So please look at them in your Bible; well start with Revelation 2:1:
To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands:...
The first church is Ephesus. Now the common thread is a phrase that is repeated for every church. Verse 2a, what does He say to the Ephesus church?
I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance....
Look at verse nine, Smyrna. What does He say to Smyrna? Verse 9a:
I know your afflictions and your poverty....This phrase, I know your deeds, (or something similar) is repeated for every church.
Look at verse 13, Pergamum:
I know where you live....
Verse 19a, Thyatira:
I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance....
Then chapter 3:1, Hes talking to Sardis, and in the last part of that verse He says,
...I know your deeds....
And then Philadelphia in chapter 3, in verse 8 He says:
I know your deeds....
And, of course Laodicea, is the same thing. In verse 15 of chapter 3 He says:
I know your deeds....
So what is Jesus doing in the messages to the seven churches? He is giving us an evaluation of our spiritual condition. You see, God judges the churches, He judges individuals, by their works. Our works tell us what our spiritual condition is. I want to give you several texts to show you that this is a clear teaching of the Bible.
So the messages to the seven churches are Gods evaluation of the Christian church beginning with John right up to the last generation of Christians. And, of course, Laodicea is the seventh church, which is dealing with us, the last generation of Christians, which is what I want to look at.
Let me look at some of the passages that will help you to see that our works tell us what our spiritual condition is. For example, look at Matthew 5:14. What does God say to the disciples? In verse 14a, He says:
You are the light of the world....
In other words, you are My witnesses. Christ is the light but you are to represent Me. Now look at verse 16:
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
Let your light so shine that men may see what? How do we reveal Christ, by what? By works. And by these we glorify Who? Our Father in heaven.
So our works reveal what kind of people we are. Let me give you another example: in Matthew 25, when Jesus comes He will divide the world into two camps, the sheep and the goats. Now please, nobody is saved by their works. But what does Jesus say to them? I was hungry and you... what? Matthew 25:34-36:
Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
Justification by Faith always bears fruit. And the fruit is feeding the hungry.
You will find this in Matthew 25:34-36. Hes using works as evidence that they had accepted His righteousness. At the same time, He uses works to prove those Who had rejected Him. And He will say [Matthew 25:41-43]:
Then he will say to those on his left, Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.
I was hungry and you did not feed Me.
I want to give you another example. Turn now to the gospel of John, chapter five. I want you to notice that Jesus used His works to prove that He came from the Father, from God. Look at John 5:36:
I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me.
The same thing happens in chapter 14. In chapter 14 of John, Philip says to Jesus [John 14:8]:
Philip said, Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.
What did Jesus say? Verse 9:
Jesus answered: Dont you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, Show us the Father?
He who has seen Me has seen the Father.
I want you to notice verses 10 and 11:
Dont you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.
If you dont believe My words, believe My WORKS. For the works I do are not Mine but the Father Who dwells in Me He is the One that is doing the works.
So verse 10 and 11 say: Believe Me for My works sake.
And, by the way, if you read verse 12, what does Jesus say?
I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
I want to give you two more examples: one is James 2. Is James teaching Justification by Works? It appears so on the surface, but if you read James 2 very carefully, what Hes defending is that genuine justification by faith will always produce works. That is what Hes dealing with.
Does Paul agree with Him? Yes. How is our faith witnessed? Not by our words, folks. The world doesnt want you to shout and scream and lift up your hands and say, Praise the Lord, I am saved! They dont want that. They want to see Christ in you.
But someone will say, You have faith; I have deeds.
Are these two different things? James says no [18b]:
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
Then he goes on to say in verse 19
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that and shudder.
So what is the conclusion? Verse 20:
You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?
Genuine justification by faith always produces works.
So when Jesus says, I know thy works, Hes simply saying, Im evaluating you. Are your works good; are your works bad; what is your condition?
So God judges us by our works. One more text: 1 Peter 2:12:
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
There Peter tells us that the world may persecute you, not because you have done bad, but because you have done good. But in the judgment, they will admit, they will confess, that your works were not evil. They will have to confess, Yes, we were wrong in persecuting you.
In concluding our introduction, I want to give you the pattern of the messages. I have already explained to you that the common thread that goes through these messages to the seven churches is I know your works, which means that God or Christ is evaluating the Christian church at different periods of church history. And we are going to see how Christ evaluates the Christian church in these last days. Or, to be more precise, How does God evaluate the Adventist church, which is part of the last-day generation of Christians? How does He evaluate us? According to our works. That is what we are going to study Biblically.
I want to give you the pattern. There are four basic terms that are used in all the churches, and I want to give these to you:
Now I would like to mention something about these four things. Of the seven churches mentioned, there are two that have no reproofs. Those are Smyrna and Philadelphia. Because Philadelphia has no reproofs, there are many who are saying today that Laodicea has to go back to the Philadelphian condition before Christ can come. I am not going to go into that issue, because, you know, its a theological issue.
I will say this much, that there is reproof for the Laodicean church, but there is something at which you may be surprised. There are two churches that have no commendation, and one of them is the Laodicean church. God had no commendation for us. And that is something that we need to know. In view of this I would like to read you a quotation here by Ellen G. White [3T 252]:
The message to the church of the Laodiceans is a startling denunciation and it is applicable to the people of God at the present time.
You mean to say that here is a church that has present truth and God has no commendation? Isnt that a startling denunciation? And so were going to see why. Why is it that we have no commendation from Christ? Here is a church that claims to have the truth, here is a church that claims to be the best church, and the rest of them...you know, sometimes we call them Philistines. And yet what does Christ say? I have nothing good to say about you.
So we must take this very seriously. Where have we gone wrong? What is our problem? Were going to look at it Biblically. This brings me to our conclusion which is dealing with this. The book of Revelation is full of symbols; we must not use our dictionary, or our culture, to interpret the symbols. We need to go to Scripture. So when Christ says to us, You are not hot, you are not cold, you are lukewarm, we must not give it the modern application of complacency. We need to go to the Bible and say, What does the Bible mean by hot, cold, and lukewarm? We need to do that.
So please remember that the book of Revelation is highly symbolic. Therefore, it is like hidden treasure; we have to dig to find out what these symbols represent.
For example, for each Church that is addressed, Christ gives Himself a very special name, and the name that He gives Himself is connected with the message for the Church. Look at the name He gives Himself for us, the Laodiceans. What does He say about Himself concerning us? Look at Revelation 3:14:
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of Gods creation.
Christ is the Amen. What does He mean by that? Hes using it as a noun. He is the Amen; He is the Faithful and True Witness; and He is the ruler of Gods creation. Now why does He give Himself these three titles? That is our next study, which will be: Laodicea is Addressed.
Another question I want to present to you: To whom is the message addressed to the Church or to somebody else? Look at verse 14:
To the angel of the church in Laodicea....
Who is the Angel of the Church? I want you to wrestle with the symbols. Who is the Angel of Laodicea? What did Jesus mean? Why did He call Himself the Amen? The word amen means truth. Why does Jesus call Himself The Truth? Why? Ask yourself these questions. I wont give you answers now, because were going to go on slowly, step by step. All I want you to do is to wrestle with this passage. Dont gloss over this message. We are going to take several studies on just each verse. Well continue verse by verse. This time we have done the introduction; next our study will be, Laodicea is Addressed.
I want you to look at verse 14, just Revelation 3:14:
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of Gods creation.
There are two questions I want you to answer regarding verse 14:
Remember that we are dealing with Gods evaluation of the last generation of Christians, and in a very specific way we are dealing with Gods evaluation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Is it a good evaluation or bad? Is there any commendation? No. Is there any reproof? Yes, Im afraid so. Does it apply only to a few members, or does it apply to the body? Who is Christ addressing? Just the few who dont come to church, or does it include you? Does it include me?
That is what we need to wrestle with, folks. And you will see, as we go along, that this message that we are dealing with is vitally connected with the message that God brought to this Church in 1888, the message of Righteousness by Faith. And you will see why from the Bible. Ellen G. White makes it clear, but we will see why.
God bless us that we will study this message prayerfully. As you read it, please apply that message to yourself. I will apply it to myself, especially when I look at the word, angel. It applies to me more than you, folks. But we will see why God addresses it to the angel when He comes to the seven churches.
But you will notice in the introduction, God says to John, Take these messages and give it to the churches. So it does involve the churches, but it begins with the angel. So this is not something that applies to a few members in the church, the backsliders and the cold; it applies to the body of Christ, folks, from the top to the last member.
God bless us as we study this message.