UPDATE: This is an old article. An updated and expanded commentary on this passage can be found in Paul’s book Letters from Jesus.
God never makes us sick but did you know it’s possible for people to make him feel sick? Now there’s a staggering thought. Yet this is exactly the reaction the Laodicean church elicited from Jesus. They were lukewarm and Jesus said their lukewarmness made him nauseous:
“Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to vomit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:16, LITV)
Jesus is literally saying, “you guys make me sick!” It sounds funny, but it’s no laughing matter. The implications of Jesus’ words are thoroughly frightening. What do they mean for the Laodiceans? Let’s ask Matthew Henry:
“They shall be rejected, and finally rejected; for far be it from the holy Jesus to return to that which has been thus rejected.”
This is one of those places in the Bible where we want to sit up and pay close attention, for Jesus is discussing issues of acceptance and rejection. Here we should ask, what were the Laodiceans doing that led to this threat of being rejected by Jesus?
What gets you rejected by Jesus?
In Part 1 of the series I noted that some people define lukewarmness in terms of human zeal and apathy. There are at least three good reasons why apathy cannot be the issue in this case. Still, you may have come across people who think they are “hot” or “on fire” for Jesus because they have judged with Old Testament harshness those parts of the body of Christ that don’t meet their particular standards for hotness. For them it’s a self-fulfilling, self-gratifying theology. They have set for themselves a certain standard which they have met and from which they rain down judgment on others who are not like them. They excel at finding fault and their idea of helping those who struggle is to preach religion. These self-appointed judges and self-styled watchmen make me pewking nauseous.
And maybe they make Jesus nauseous too.
The Message Bible translates Jesus’ words in verse 16 like this: “you make me want to vomit.” Now think about all the people Jesus met when he walked the earth and ask yourself, which group made Jesus sick?
Was it the sinners? No. Jesus was a friend of sinners. Jesus went to the cross for sinners.
Was it those living meekly under the law? No. Jesus came to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law and set such people free. He redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Gal 3:13).
Was it those who showed faith? No. Jesus marvelled at such people. Faith pleases the Lord.
So who made Jesus sick? Matthew 23 gives us the answer:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” (Mat 23:27)
Religion makes Jesus sick
Nothing nauseated Jesus like religious hypocrites who put law on others which they themselves did not follow. Note that the problem with the Pharisees was not what they were preaching. As we saw in Part 1, the law is good. Hence Jesus said to the Jews, “You must obey them and do everything they tell you” (Mt 23:3). Why is Jesus advocating the law? Because the law strips us of our self-righteousness leaving us silent and condemned before a holy God. The law reveals our need for a Saviour.
But then Jesus adds, “do what they say but don’t do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach” (Mt 23:3). The Pharisees lived by a double-standard. They were preaching the law to others but were diluting it for themselves. They were mixing it with a little grace of their own. They were lowering the divine standard to an attainable level thus thwarting the purpose for which the law was given. Instead of being silenced and condemned, the Pharisees were outspoken and proud. They were exalting themselves. They thought they were in right standing before God and everyone around them needed to come up to their religious level. This made Jesus furious!
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Mat 23:33)
No one would deny that the Pharisees were zealous for God. But theirs’ was a carnal zeal based on the Satanic lie that we can make ourselves righteous. Jesus said they appeared righteous on the outside, but on the inside they were “full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Mt 23:28). Instead of submitting to Christ’s righteousness, they sought to establish their own (Rms 10:3).
Now let’s jump back to Revelations 3.
The traditional view is that the Laodiceans were lazy and half-hearted, but I suspect they were as zealous as Pharisees. They were passionate about their religion. Perhaps they gave a “tenth of all their spices” like the Pharisees did. Perhaps they traveled “over land and sea to win a single convert.” But they did so out of religious pride. Like the Pharisees they exalted themselves saying, “we are rich and do not need a thing” (Rev 3:17). Instead of being silenced by God’s holy law, they had become boastful and independent. And like the Pharisees, they made Jesus sick.
Jesus left the comforts of heaven to endure unimaginable suffering on the cross in order that we might be redeemed from the condemnation of the law. To act as if we could somehow attain that divine and perfect standard in our own strength is to insult a holy God who lives in unapproachable light. And to reject the free gift of his grace and righteousness that makes it possible for us to draw near, is to insult his Son.
Reject Jesus as unnecessary and he will reject you.
We begin to understand, then, why Jesus called the Laodiceans “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” In Part 3 of this series I will begin look at what that means for the rest of us and the remedies that Jesus offers.
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