The Laodicean Message
by E.H. ‘Jack’ Sequeira

Laodicea is Evaluated (Part 1)

Revelation 3:15-16:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

Please turn your Bible to Revelation 3.  We are dealing with the Laodicean message; we looked at the introduction, which is verse 14, in the last study.  We saw that the One addressing the Laodiceans is Christ Himself.  He calls Himself, “The Faithful and True Witness,” and we saw why.  We also saw that Christ is addressing the “Angel”; please notice that it is in the singular, therefore, He is addressing the corporate leadership and, along with it, the church members.

Today I want to deal with verses 15 and 16.  To me, this is the most important section of the Laodicean message.  It is so important that I’m not going to rush through it, and I think that we will have to spend at least two studies with it.

I’ll tell you why these two verse are important:  because a clear understanding of Revelation 3:15-16 is the key to a meaningful study of the whole of the Laodicean message.  In other words, everything depends on a correct understanding of what Christ is telling us in verses 15 and 16.  Christ is evaluating us in these two verses, and that’s the title of this study, “Laodicea is Evaluated.”  Then, based on that, are verses 17-21; so we need to have a correct understanding.

I want to go step by step.  First of all, I would like to read the two verses.  So please follow me in your Bible.  Jesus, the True and Faithful Witness, is telling us (Revelation 3:15-16):

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

The key statement in these two verses is:  “I know your deeds.” What does that mean?  First of all, the word “deeds” (“works,” in some translations) has to do with behaviour, it has to do with our activities.  Now Jesus is not referring here to our denominational or institutional works, like our hospitals, or our schools, or our orphanages, or nursing homes, whatever we do.  He is discussing here our spiritual behaviour.  And, if our spiritual behaviour is wrong — which it is — then, naturally, our other works will be affected.  So it is important that we understand, “How does Christ evaluate our spiritual works?”

The first thing that we need to know about this is that Laodicea is not short of deeds.  This makes it very clear:  “I know your deeds.” So it is not that we don’t have deeds; that’s not the issue.  We have deeds, but there is something wrong with those deeds.  It is neither hot, nor cold but it is lukewarm, and lukewarm is a mixture of hot and cold.  So that is basically what He is saying.  It is not hot, it is not cold, but it is lukewarm.

Now you need to notice that these terms, these symbols — hot, lukewarm, and cold — are used in reference to our works.  He says, “I know your deeds.” Our deeds are not hot.  But our works are lukewarm.

We’re still dealing with behaviour here.  “You’re spiritual behaviour is not hot, it is not cold, but it is lukewarm.” You will notice that there are three kinds of works here mentioned.  These are symbols; please remember, the book of Revelation is symbolic.  Now if you read your New Testament carefully, you will discover that the New Testament describes human behaviour when it talks on a spiritual level, it describes human behaviour in three categories:

  1. works of the flesh,
  2. works of faith,
  3. works of the law.

These are the three categories of works that the New Testament describes:  works of the flesh, works of the law, and works of faith.  To which of these three do the categories belong?  In other words, do “hot” deeds symbolize works of the flesh, works of the law, or works of faith?  That is what we need to discover.  And we need to discover what cold works belong to.  I’m going to start with cold works.

First of all, I want to make a statement and then I will come back to it and show you from the Bible what it represents.  I believe that “cold” works represent works of the flesh.  Let me describe the word “flesh.”  When the word “flesh” is used in the New Testament in a spiritual sense, it refers to our carnal, fallen, sinful nature.  So when Paul says, “I am carnal, I am fleshly” (that’s the Greek word), he means, “I am a fallen man.” So “flesh” represents our fallen, sinful nature.

What does “works of the flesh” represent?  Please turn your Bible to Galatians 5, where Paul clearly describes “works of the flesh.” Let’s look at verses 19-21:

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious:  sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

So if you are to describe the works of the flesh, what would you call it?  In one word?  Sin!  Is that clear?  So “works of the flesh” is what kind of behaviour, good or bad?  It belongs to which camp?  The camp of sin.  Now let me give you another example, Romans 7:14.  Paul says,

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.

Then he explains this.  But I want you to look at the conclusion, which is the last statement found in verse 25.  If you read verses 15-24 you will notice what Paul is saying.  For example, look at Romans 7:18:

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

In other words, Paul is saying the flesh is incapable of doing good.  And he proves this; he says (Romans 7:19-21):

For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.  So I find this law at work:  When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.

“Even if I want to do good, I find that I cannot do it.”

But the key text is the last part of verse 25:

Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Now we must put the emphasis on those two words, “I myself.” The word translated “I myself” in the Greek is ego.  But Paul uses two words instead of one, he uses the words autos ego, which means, “Left on my own, without the help of the Holy Spirit, on my own, the only thing that I can do is keep the law in the mind, but, in the flesh, I keep sinning.

That’s why in Romans 8:7 he says:

The sinful mind [the mind controlled by the flesh] is hostile to God.  It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.

In other words, can the flesh do good things?  Outwardly, yes, but, according to the Bible, can the flesh do anything good?  No.

Now I want to give you another text that may help you, John 3:6.  When Jesus was met by Nicodemus, remember the night visitor?  Nicodemus was a Pharisee.  By the way, we have a tendency to look at the Pharisees as being bad people.  But actually the Pharisees were zealous about keeping the law.  If you read Philippians 3:4-6, where Paul describes himself as a Pharisee, he was zealous regarding the righteousness of the law, he was blameless:

...Though I myself have reasons for such confidence.  If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

A Pharisee is someone who is really trying to do right.  But how is he doing it, in whose power?  His own power.  Keep this in mind, because that is the problem when Jesus is talking to Nicodemus.

In John 3:6, Jesus makes a statement to Nicodemus, he says to him:

Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

In other words, the flesh is unchangeable.  He’s telling Nicodemus:  “Your foundation is wrong.  You are trying to keep the will of God by your flesh.  And the flesh will always remain flesh.  You need to be born from above, you need to have another power.”  So please remember the word “flesh” refers to our sinful nature, and “works of the flesh,” as we saw in Galatians 5, are sinful acts.

Why do I identify this with “cold”?  Let me give you some texts.  Turn first of all to Matthew 24, and look at verse 12.  This is Jesus prophesying about the last days, and one of the last things he tells us about the last days, which we’re witnessing today, is this (Matthew 24:12):

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold....

So Jesus identifies cold with sinful acts, with iniquity.  And you will find this quite common.  In Ephesians 5:11, Paul gives another description of the works of the flesh.  He just uses another term, but it means the same thing:

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.

What does he say there?  How does he describe the works of the flesh?  He gives it another term, but it is the same thing, it’s synonymous with works of the flesh:  “the fruitless deeds of darkness.”

In 1 Thessalonians 5:5, you will notice that Paul puts people in two categories.  Christians he calls “the children of light” and unbelievers are called the children of “darkness”:

You are all sons of the light and sons of the day.  We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.

Please remember that, in the Middle East, you have extremes of temperature.  In 1980, I gave a series of workers meetings, and the pastors, in appreciation for those workers meetings, took me on a trip.  They gave me a free trip to Mount Sinai, where the law was given.  I was quite amazed:  the daytime was awfully hot — sometimes it reached 112 degrees Fahrenheit — but the nights!  I forgot to take warm stuff, because we left in the daytime, but the nights were freezing cold.  I had to borrow and do everything, even my sleeping bag was too cold.  You have this extreme of temperature.

During the Exodus, because of these extremes in temperature, in the daytime, God was a cloud to keep them cool.  Because it’s quite cool in Egypt in the shade; it’s in the sun that it’s hot.  In the nighttime, He was a pillar of fire, so He had a miraculous heating system.  So the Jews kept warm in the night, and they kept cool in the day, and God was their Protector.  He was supplying their needs.

So you can see that cold is identified with works of the flesh.  Now go back to Galatians 5.  What is the opposite of cold?  Hot.  And what is the opposite of works of the flesh?  Let’s look at Galatians 5; because in Galatians 5:16, Paul is making a statement, and the works of the flesh is based on that statement.  He says:

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

So there are two kinds of walks that are available to the Christian:  you can walk in the flesh and you can walk in the Spirit.  If you walk in the Spirit, you can overcome the flesh.  That’s what he’s saying.  Then, in verses 19-20, he describes the works of the flesh, which are produced by people who walk in the flesh:

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious:  sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But in verse 22, which is the opposite — because it begins with the word “but,” it means “in contrast” — the fruit of the Spirit is what?  Galatians 5:22-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.

I would like to show you here that the fruit of the Spirit is synonymous with works of faith.  Let me give you an example.  Let’s start with Jesus Christ, John 14:12:

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.

“If you have faith, you will do the works of Christ.”

What has Christ going to the Father have to do with doing those works?  I’ll tell you why; because in John 16:7 Jesus said:

But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.

“If I don’t go to My Father, I will not be able to send you the Holy Spirit.”

In other words, when we walk by faith, the Holy Spirit Who dwells in the believer will produce the works of Christ.  I want to give you a couple more examples regarding this.  Let’s look at Titus 3:8:

This is a trustworthy saying.  And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.  These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

These are works of faith, because they who believe will produce these works.

Let me give you another text, and that is 1 Thessalonians 1:3.  What is Paul saying here?  He’s introducing himself, he’s writing an introduction to the Thessalonians.  He says in verse 3:

We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Another passage is James 2:14-26, where James is saying that genuine faith always produces works.  And faith without works is dead.  If your faith doesn’t produce works, it is because your faith is dead.  James 2:14-26:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?  Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.  You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?  As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

Please remember these first two texts.  I gave you Thessalonians because Paul believes in works of faith.  He’s thanking the Thessalonians for their work of faith.  He’s telling Titus that those who believe will maintain good works.

Now if “cold” is the works of the flesh, then hot must be works of faith.  So we have now identified two kinds of works.  But what I want to now is to look at “lukewarm.”  If “hot” is works of faith, and “cold” is works of the flesh, then “lukewarm” would be what kind of works?  What is left?  Works of law.

Now I want to give you some texts that define works of faith.  While you’re looking at it, let me give you an explanation.  Please turn to Romans 9:30-32:

What then shall we say?  That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it.  Why not?  Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.  They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.”

Who was that stumbling stone that they stumbled at?  Yes, if you read verse 33 you will notice that it applies to Christ; because it says:

As it is written:  “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him [Jesus Christ] will never be put to shame.”

We will come to that, because you remember what Jesus, the True Witness, says to Laodicea (Revelation 3:18):

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so 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.

Let me give you another text.  I’ll give you a couple in Galatians — Galatians 2:16 — and you will notice that Paul uses the phrase “works of the law” [“observing the law” in the NIV translation] more than once:

Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.  So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

If you turn to chapter 3, the next chapter, verse 10, we have a very important verse there:

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”

What did Paul mean by that phrase “observing the law” or “works of the law”?  You see, they did not have a word in the Greek language that was equivalent to our English word “legalism.”  There is no Greek word for legalism.  So the expression, the phrase “works of the law” is “legalism.”  So whenever you read this expression, “works of the law,” it’s legalism.

How would you define legalism?  How would you define “works of the law”?  Let me give you a text that will help you, Philippians 3:7-9.  Here Paul is telling us what he’s giving up in exchange for Christ.  I want you to notice the phrase he uses in verse 9:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

We have a term in English to define “a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,” in other words, works of the law.  We have an expression in English, “self-righteousness,” that’s how we call it in English, righteousness that is produced by self.

I want to show you how self-righteousness, or works of the law, is a mixture of cold and hot.  In self-righteousness, who is doing the works, the Spirit or the flesh?  So the flesh is doing the works.  But the works that the flesh is doing, is it good, or does it resemble the righteousness of the law outwardly?  What did the Pharisee pray?  Luke 18:11-12:

The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself:  “God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

Or in Matthew 19:16-30, look at the young man who came to Jesus:

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied.  “There is only One who is good.  If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
“Which ones?” the man inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“All these I have kept,” the young man said.  “What do I still lack?”
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you!  What then will there be for us?”
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

Jesus said, “If you want to go to heaven by your works, you must keep the law.”  And the young man said, “Which law?”  And Jesus gave him the six commandments which deal in terms of our relationship with our neighbor.  And what did the young man say?  “All these things have I kept since I was in primary Sabbath school.”

Now what kind of works did the young man do?  Works of the law.  “Works of the law” means “flesh” trying to produce the righteousness of the law which belongs to the heart.  So the source of works of the law is flesh.  But the works themselves resemble what?  Works of faith or righteousness.

Let me give you an illustration.  Do “works of faith” keep the Sabbath?  Yes.  Do “works of the law” keep the Sabbath?  Yes.  Here is a Jew who is keeping the Sabbath.  The question is not, “Are you keeping the Sabbath?”  But, “Is that keeping of the Sabbath works of the law or is it works of faith?  That is important.  But that I will cover when we do verse 17, when we see why works of the law deceive us.

But the question is the works of the law is not the same as the works of the flesh, because the works of the flesh are sinful acts; the works of the law are not sinful acts.  They are righteous acts on the surface, they look good, but they are very deceiving, because outwardly they look good.  So please remember that “works of the law” is self-righteousness.

Now I want to turn to the quotations from Ellen G. White.  And I want to read three quotations.  And I want you to notice how she identifies the Laodicean problem.  You notice that she agrees with this exegesis.

Your self-righteousness is nauseating to the Lord Jesus Christ.
“I know your deeds, that thou art neither cold nor hot; I would that thou wert cold or hot.  So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of My mouth.  Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:  I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.”
These words apply to the churches and to many of those in positions of trust in the work of God.  [7BC 962]

So what is our problem?  Self-righteousness.  Next quotation:

Self-righteousness is not the wedding garment...

In fact, self-righteousness is the garment that one person was wearing, refusing the garment that was offered him.  The bridegroom was offering him His garment, he says, “No, my suit is pretty clean.  I don’t need your suit.”  And Sister White says:

Self-righteousness is not the wedding garment.  A failure to follow the clear light of truth is our fearful danger.  The message to the Laodicean church reveals our condition as a people.  [RH 12-15-04]

What is our condition? Self-righteousness.  Okay, let me give you one more quotation.  Here we are told what Christ’s opinion is of self-righteousness [SC 44]:

There are those who profess to serve God while they rely upon their own efforts to obey His law...

How would you describe these kind of works — “works of faith” or “works of the law”?  Who are they depending on to produce righteousness?  They’re depending on their own effort.

There are those who profess to serve God while they rely upon their own efforts to obey His law to form a right character and secure salvation.  Their hearts are not moved by any deep sense of the love of Christ, but they seek to perform the duties of the Christian life as which God requires of them in order to gain heaven.  Such religion is worth nothing!

So you see, Ellen G. White agrees with what we’ve been studying.  Only I am doing it from the Bible because we need to defend our message from the word of God.  But I’m giving you these quotations to see that there is perfect harmony.

So here is our problem.  Of course, we have not finished our study of these two verses.  I’m going to spend another study, but I would like to present one question.  If you turn back to Revelation 3:15, the last part, Jesus makes a statement that I want you folks to wrestle with.  We’ll touch on it next time:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!

You mean He wants us to be cold?  What did He mean when He said, “I wish you were either cold or hot”?  Why did He say that?

There is a statement where God says it will be easier in the judgment for Ninevah than for Israel.  Matthew 12:41:

The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.

When God told Ninevah that “you are wicked,” did they agree?  Yes.  What was Ninevah guilty of — works of the law or works of the flesh?  Works of the flesh.  Their behaviour was terrible.

When God told Israel that “your works are wrong,” did they agree?  No.  In other words, they were blind to their condition, and we will see when we come to verse 17 why they didn’t realize it. But we need to wrestle with WHY Jesus says that, “I wish you were either hot or cold” and, number two, why does He object to self-righteousness?

Let me give you an illustration.  If you have a child who is trying his best to please you, are you angry or are you happy?  You’re happy.  But here is a person who is trying to please God with his own efforts, and God is angry.  Why?  Well, that’s for next study.


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