The Gospel Comes to Laodicea

UPDATE: This is an old article. An updated and expanded commentary on this passage can be found in Paul’s book Letters from Jesus.

empty fuel tank

Mention the Letter to the Laodiceans to a random Christian and they may respond with, “isn’t that the one where Jesus says we have to be on fire for God or he will vomit us out?”

If you have been following this series, you will know that I have a few problems with this performance-based interpretation. But then I have problems anytime people think we have to things we must do to earn God’s acceptance and favor!

Let me suggest a completely different interpretation of Revelations 3:14-22: The Letter to the Laodiceans is the gospel of grace. It is the same gospel that Paul, Peter, James, John and all the other New Testament greats preached.

This letter is not bad news for Christians but good news for sinners. Drop me in an unreached people group and using only the nine verses of this letter and I will have enough of the Bible to reveal a Savior who loves wretched sinners so much that he left the comforts of heaven to win us back to himself.

Good news for Laodiceans

To prove this, allow me to distil the essence of the gospel message in 7 statements. This is the economy version of the gospel, the one you preach in elevators:

(i)    you are a born sinner by nature
(ii)    nothing you can do will make you acceptable to God
(iii)    because of this you face rejection and eternal separation from God
(iv)    but Jesus has come and offers you his righteousness
(v)    so repent, turn to God and put your trust in him
(vi)    his desire is to see you reign in life by the power of his Spirit
(vii)    because of what he has done you can look forward to eternity with him

Yes, it’s short, but it covers all the bases. It addresses our natural state apart from God, our inability to save ourselves (our helplessness), and the consequences of a future apart from God. It presents Jesus’ offer of salvation, his challenge to repent and believe, his desire to live his life through us, and his promise of eternal life.

Notice how Jesus hits each of these points when speaking to the Laodiceans. He speaks to:

(i)    their state: you are blind and naked (v.17)
(ii)    their helplessness: you are wretched and poor (v.17)
(iii)    their future: I will vomit you out, I will reject you (v.16)
(iv)    his offer: I counsel you to come to me for white clothes (v.18)
(v)    his challenge: so be earnest and repent (v.19)
(vi)    his desire: I want to come in and be with you (v.20)
(vii)    his promise: do this I will give you the right to sit with me on my throne (v.21)

Did you see that? In 200 words Jesus addresses the Laodicean’s sorry state, their helplessness, and their doomed future before challenging them to repent and accept the gift of his righteousness, along with his offer of a life lived with him both now and forever more.

That’s good preaching!

Bear fruit that lasts

Please put your hand up if you’ve ever heard anyone preach the gospel from the letter to the Laodiceans. No one? Perhaps Jesus was the only one who ever did.

Now put your hand if you’ve ever heard anyone preach the letter to Laodiceans in such a way that it left you feeling inadequate or insecure, a lazy fraud in the kingdom of God.

This illustrates a fundamental problem with the way some people approach the word of God. Take any scripture in the Bible and you can do one of two things with it. You can either;

(1)    preach a man-centered message
(2)    preach a Christ-centered message

If you take the first approach you will emphasize the unfinished works of people. You will never run out of things to say because there will be no end to the list of things we must do to either make ourselves righteous or holy or acceptable to God. The tragedy is that even if you preach forever you will be no closer to attaining your goal. No one will have been made righteous, holy or acceptable.

If you take the second approach you will emphasize the finished work of the cross. You will never run out of things to say because there will be no end to the list of reasons for thanking Jesus.  Just when you’re done praising him for one thing, he will reveal his grace in another undeserving area of your life, and you won’t be able to help but rejoice and praise him for that too.

Do you understand the difference? Do you know how to read your Bible without getting confused?

The same text can be used to condemn or liberate depending on whether your aim is to preach hollow human philosophy or Christ crucified. It’s your works or his blood. One preacher can take the letter to the Laodiceans and use it to frighten Christians, while another uses it to preach the good news to sinners. Although the motives of both preachers may be pure, only one of them is likely to bear fruit that lasts.

“He raised us up together with Him… that He might clearly demonstrate through the ages to come the immeasurable (limitless, surpassing) riches of His free grace (His unmerited favor) in His kindness and goodness of heart toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:6-7, AMP)

His grace or your works

The grace of God will not share the stage with human performance or even man’s desires. God’s purposes and gifts only ever depend on his mercy (Rms 9:16). It doesn’t matter how hard you strive – it only matters that God is merciful. And he is!

Now before anyone writes to me calling for “balance,” let me remind you that the moment you balance grace with human works or human responsibility, it stops being grace. You cannot balance unmerited favor with merited favor. How do you receive the grace of God in vain? By trying to merit it, by trying to earn what was freely given.

The Laodiceans were unacceptable and in danger of rejection. They could turn up the tempo, sing a little louder, hand out more tracts, and they would be just as unacceptable as before. We are not acceptable by nature. Neither are we made acceptable by our performance. We are only “made acceptable” in the Beloved:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … He chose us … predestined us … according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” (Eph 1:3-6 NKJV)

Jesus did not come to Laodicea or your house with a list of things we can do that will impress him. He came to reveal the favor of God. The words the angel spoke to Mary apply equally to you: “You are highly favored! The Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28).

The only proper response is to say “thank you Jesus!”

10 Comments on The Gospel Comes to Laodicea

  1. To offer a little more perspective on this, the context of the terms used helps bring further clarity and understanding. The terms “hot” and “cold” were not meant to give a picture of “good behavior” versus “bad behavior”. At the time, there was a river that flowed through that area. At the source of the river, the water was fresh and cool, but near the end of the river it was hot from the heat of the region. The advantage of cool water was refreshment, but the hot water was also beneficial for various uses. Both were unlikely to have contamination. However, the dangerous water was the tepid lukewarm water in between the start and finish. That water had risk of disease and was not safe. The term “lukewarm” was one meant to express corruption of the life giving water.

  2. Paul…I am truly enjoying new wine (a gospel message found in the letter to Laodecia) found in old wineskins (naughty, naughty Laodecians…you’re bad, bad 🙂

    Keep it coming brother, I have every intention of stealing your points for future teachings 🙂

  3. Thank you for preaching this GOOD News!
    So many people preach that you have to do stuff in order to be saved.
    But even when I think of 1 small thing I have to do, I get nervous and afraid.
    It really takes away all hope, faith and joy and I end up far away from God.
    When I however only look at Jesus and have 100% faith that HE did it all for me, then I am at rest and at peace. And then I ONLY see Him and my life transforms immediately. Then without any effort I produce the fruits of love, gratitude, faith and joy. If you honnestly know yourself, then you must know that YOU will never be able to produce anything good at all. Only when you accept Gods mercy and let Him live the Life in you, you will produce good fruit. Putting works first is like putting that car before the horse. Only when the horse (grace) pulls the car, you will make progress. They do belong together, faith and works. But all we need to do is focus on grace and then the car will move. This is also the only way to prevent pride or despair. Thanks for your great website and facebook page! God bless you! 🙂

  4. Does this means that when I sin God won’t judge me now that I am a believer?

  5. Mdm. Nalinimatilda // April 21, 2013 at 2:22 am // Reply

    Laodiceans were believers and saved people yet they were unacceptable and in danger of rejection because of their many sins . If they had heed and repent to the warning and the exhortation of our Lord, Our Lord surely would accept them because of HIS precious Grace. Neither are we made acceptable by our performances we are only made acceptable in the beloved.HE predestined us and seated in heavenly places. He did all thses for us while we yet sinners and enemies. We cannot stop here. Every page of New testament says that therefore in view of God’s mercy we ought to give our bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God.Therefore husbands should love their wives and wives should obey their husbands. Therefore children must obey parents ,servant must obey masters and masters must not oppress thrie servants.. Jesus has saved me from sin and I am not to live in it any more. God forbids Paul says. 2Peter1:3-11 Peter encourages us to make every effort to keep our faith. 1Cor.15:2They have to hold fast the word and that otherwise even their glorious beginning is a total lossRom13:11 says we are nearer to salvation now than we first believed.. Sermon on the mount to be practiced. If we abide in the Vine and live in Christ it will be possible to follow Christ because HE has promised the HIS Holy Spirit will enable us to do all things in Christ for the Glory of God. Christ be increased in me day by day and my self be decreased as I will grow in the knowledgeof Jesus Christ by studying the scriptures and praying and worshipping our God. It is crystal clear that no one is saved by their good works. We do works because we are saved by HIS un searchable love and precious GRACE.
    I do agree with Paul Ellis and like it and have learned not to frighten but to preach the Good News and it is commanded to bear fruits.

    Thank you

  6. It’s clear it was referring to the church.

    Revelation 3:14 KJV

    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;

    So all the warnings were to believers even the vomiting out from his mouth.

    • As many have said multiple times, you can be a church purely in name only. This was a church filled with unbelievers, which is completely possible (I’ve seen it myself.) Many times Christianity can become just as “cultural”, traditional, or religious as any other religion. How many Catholic churches are filled with people who come purely out of family history, religious behavior, etc. ? How many mafia families were religious in the name of Christ? The point is, it is impossible for a believer to be referred to as not having white garments, or being poor, wretched, blind, naked etc. A believer by definition is rich in Christ, clothed in white, eyes open to see the truth of Jesus. But the former terms are always terms used of unbelievers. Laodicea had at one point been a Christ-loving church, but at this later period at the end of John’s life (all the other apostles had died) they had drifted away from Christ and were unbelievers. All believers have Jesus in them – we “abide in Christ” and “Christ abides in us.” So how could Jesus be at the door knocking to come in to a believing church?

  7. I think we need to be taught More of Grace because most of us are way offline… Thank you for the Insight…..

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