by Mike Ratliff
30 “But as for you, son of man, your fellow citizens who talk about you by the walls and in the doorways of the houses, speak to one another, each to his brother, saying, ‘Come now and hear what the message is which comes forth from the Lord.’ 31 They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain. 32 Behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words but they do not practice them. 33 So when it comes to pass—as surely it will—then they will know that a prophet has been in their midst.” Ezekiel 33:30-33 (NASB)
In the book of Revelation, chapters 2 and 3 contain the seven letters Christ dictated to John to be sent to seven churches that existed in John’s time in Asia Minor. I have heard several sermons and read some exposits of these chapters that were geared towards these seven churches each representing one of the seven church ages. For this to be true there would have to be seven separate, distinct church ages that we could clearly line up with the each church description in these two chapters. First, let me say that I am not 100% convinced that this is valid, but it is intriguing.For reference here are the seven churches and the church age each “represents.” Ephesus – the apostolic period of the church (A.D. 30-100). Smyrna – the age of martyrs of the church in the second and third centuries. Pergamos – the age of the state church, beginning with Constantine and continued until the first pope was recognized to have authority over the Catholic church (A.D. 313-590). Thyatira – this church corresponds to the time period when the church was firmly established not only as a church, but also as a state (A.D. 590-1517). It begins with the first pope, Gregory the Great, and continues to the time of the Protestant Reformation. Sardis – this church represents the Reformation era of the church (A.D. 1517-1790). Philadelphia – represents the age of the missionary church which began with the rise of modern missions under William Carey (A.D. 1730-1900). Laodicea – represents the apostate church of the last days (A.D. 1900-present).
Again, I am not completely convinced of the validity of this hypothesis, however, it is compelling in many respects. I would like to concentrate on the last church mentioned, Laodicea, because I do believe that its description by the Lord Jesus in Revelation 3:14-22 does resemble the sorry condition of the Church in our own time. Here is the passage in its entirety.
14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:
15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. 21 He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” Revelation 3:14-22 (NASB)
Needless to say, I have also heard various interpretations of what Jesus meant by “lukewarm.” Some feel that this is describing a church that has lost its fire. It is distracted that’s all. All they need to do is get busy again. Others have said that Jesus’ description, taken in its entirety, gives us a picture of a church full of unregenerate, unredeemed, lost people who are simply religious. I am in agreement with the latter. I also am in full agreement that Jesus’ description of the church of Laodicea is a valid comparison with the 21st Century visible church.
Let’s dig some here in this passage to see what markers Jesus was pointing out to us that we can compare to our own experience. First, he says that they are neither cold nor hot, but are lukewarm. This lukewarmness could also be described as halfheartedness. In the passage I placed at the top of this post we read of God’s description of the Judean exiles in Babylon with Ezekiel. He says they delight in “religious” things, but only to be entertained by them, not to hear from God in order to obey Him. Does that sound familiar? Doesn’t the Willow Creek and/or Purpose Driven Church models create church environments actually built entirely in and around entertaining these types of people? The Seeker Sensitive churches actually create an climate that encourages this.
The next characteristic we see in v17 is that these people in Laodicea were backsliders. They were sinful unregenerate people. The Puritans referred to these people as “temporary Christians.” They believed when it was convenient for them to do so, but as soon as things got tough they split. As long as the only requirements put on them are religious in nature then they stay and appear to be part of the church, however, as soon as God’s genuine requirements of personal holiness are brought to bear they can’t stand. They are all form and function with no spiritual substance. They can stay and be content in a formal church setting, but forget that repentance stuff.
The Laodiceans were also indifferent. “Hey, so what if that speaker we had in here last week is anti-Trinitarian, he spoke well and I got a lot out of his message.” I call this the Unitarian complex. We find this a lot today in the Emergent Leaders and their mouthpieces. They accuse everyone who has a problem with their indifference as being judgmental calling them “haters.”
We see also that since these are unredeemed, unregenerate people they are also subject to reprobation. They have no way to control their sinful desires because they are without the Holy Spirit. Therefore, they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. Since they can’t control their sinful desires they do away with the “rules” so that all are welcome. After all, God doesn’t expect anyone to be perfect and He loves everyone the same, so come on in.
They are self-righteous. Their theology has blinded them to the point that they see themselves as having a corner on God. They have him while everyone else calling themselves Christians are simply bogged down in old-fashioned religion. They say they are rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing. Even in their paganism they believe they are on the inside track with God while, in reality, they are in spiritual poverty, They are full of the world and destitute with God. Their spiritual blindness keeps them from seeing their own condition. Instead, they see what they want to see. When a believer rebukes them or shares the truth to them they scoff and refuse to listen. This is Spiritual Pride.
So, does Jesus’ description of the church at Laodicea bear any resemblance to the 21st Century visible church? I say yes. We are in the midst of a very long and protracted downgrade that Charles Spurgeon fought in his day. We are reaping the fruits of well over an hundred years of growing apostasy that began with the liberalization of the church in the 19th century. Humanism has all but replaced the genuine Gospel with a counterfeit gospel that preaches a different Jesus. Spiritual blindness is rampant. Church after church is falling under the spell of the Purpose Driven Church model where within the sheep are entertained and taught to focus on each other rather than God, to look within to find the truth rather than seeking The Truth Himself in His Word.
The high-jacking of the church is nearly complete. There are two clear paths I see before us. Either God sends a tremendous awakening to counter Satan’s lies or the Church we have before us is the Great Harlot that is judged by God in the Great Tribulation. I fear that the latter is the most probable, but I pray for the former. God’s will be done.
Soli Deo Gloria!