(This is the sixth of 30 posts in which we’re exploring the weird and wonderful and misused and abused Book of Revelation.)
Just because Jesus has his sweet and gentle side doesn’t mean he’s cotton-candy Jesus.
Too many sweets will produce rot. Ask any dentist you happen to see.
The love of Jesus has always tasted of salt.
His message to the struggling Christians in seven developing churches was meant to give the congregations hope and encouragement, but not without sprinkling some salty truth on them. (“I reprove and discipline those whom I love,” he says in Rev.3:19.)
In chapters 2 and 3, Jesus doesn’t mince words in harshly grading the churches struggling to find their way in what was Asia during the Roman empire.
The church at Ephesus gets knocked for not doing the kind of good spiritual work it had done before, as we see in Rev. 2:3:
“Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”
In Rev. 3:2 he calls on the church at Sardis to wake up, stop the slacking, and seek nothing less than perfection in getting down to all the spiritual work that needs to be done:
“Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God.”
And then there was the church at Laodicea, whose members–some of whom were wealthy–were smug and complacent.
Sort of like so many churches in today’s United Methodist Church, my beloved UMC, which some say stands for “Upper Middle Class.”
Don’t laugh, dear reader: your church is probably smug and complacent and wouldn’t get such a great grade from Jesus today, either.
Our Lord set the bar for church performance pretty high.
* * *
Jesus tells the church of Laodicea (the only church he has nothing good to say about) in Rev. 3:15-19 that it’s too lukewarm for him:
“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
“For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’
“You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.
“I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.”
Back then, Laodicea was a thriving center of three of the major industries: banking, wool and ophthalmology. That explains the scripture’s language about gold, white robes and eyes that could see. Jesus’ words would have registered with the Laodiceans.
Jesus tells them to get their eyes focused on spiritual riches–on gold refined by fire. (This refers back to Malachi 3:3 in the Hebrew Testament, which describes Jesus as the refiner of the human soul, who purifies it as the refiner purifies gold.)
In 1 Peter 1:6-7, the Apostle Peter had said this:
“In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith–being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
And so, for the sixth takeaway in our look at Revelation, take this under consideration:
6. Rich or well-to-do churches in rich and powerful countries have a tendency to be “lukewarm” in their spirit, so how does your church rate: would Jesus “spit it out” and call it to repentance and fire? And what about your own discipleship. Would Jesus consider you hot, cold or so complacent as to be neither?