America is witnessing a “capitalistic Christianity.” The goal is no longer spiritual growth, but expansion in numbers, property, finances. Jesus’ judgment of the Laodicean church applies to many churches today: “You don’t realize what has happened to you. Your blindness has caused you to grow lukewarm and you don’t even see it. You still think you’re hot for Me” (see Revelation 3:15-17).
In Ephesus, the church’s sin was a loss of intimacy with Jesus. In Thyatira, it was a loss of discernment, and flirtation with spiritual fornication. Now, in Laodicea, we see the worst sin of all: a loss of all need for Christ.
It all ends up in nakedness. Jesus charged the Laodiceans with their naked condition: “The shame of thy nakedness [does] not appear” (3:18). The Greek word for naked here means “stripped of resources.” You see, God reserves His resources for those who are reliant upon Him, who depend on Him in their need. What are His resources? They’re true spiritual riches: His strength, His miracle-working power, His divine guidance, His manifest presence.
Picture a congregation that sits comfortably through a one-hour worship service. These Christians hear a short sermon on how to cope with life’s stresses, then they’re quickly out the door. They don’t sense any need to be broken or contrite before Jesus. They don’t feel the need to be stirred or convicted by a piercing message. There’s no cry of, “Lord, melt me, break me. You alone can fulfill my hunger.”
Where is the zeal they had before? These believers were once eager to get to church, to pore over God’s Word, to lay their hearts bare before the Spirit’s searchlight. But now they think they’ve outgrown all that. So they’ve restricted their Christianity to Sunday mornings—to a religion of lukewarmness.
Jesus so loved this Laodicean pastor and his congregation that He told them He would create a need in them for His resources: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (3:19). His loving hand was coming to chasten them and He would do it by creating a need in them to call on His power and help.
Christ is speaking to us with the same words today. He’s telling us, just as He told the Laodiceans: “This is all about supping with Me. It’s about answering the door when I knock. And I’m calling out to you now to come and commune. I have everything you need. Your fellowship with Me gives you what you need to continue in ministry. It all has to come from our time together.”
The problem with the church in Thyatira was a flirtation with seductive, devilish ministries. Imagine the pastor’s reaction when he read these words: “Unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire” (Revelation 2:18).
The letter continues with a commendation: “I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first” (2:19). Once again, Christ is saying, “I know your deeds. Your love, faith, service and perseverance are greater now than when you began.” Best of all, the Lord tells them, “I know you love Me.” He doesn’t reprimand them for a loss of intimacy with Him.
But then we read these piercing words: “Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols” (2:20).
Who, exactly, is the Jezebel mentioned here? Jesus is speaking of false shepherds. He’s reproving the pastor in Thyatira for tolerating covetous ministers who seduce His people. The Jezebel reference here indicates more than just ministers who are covetous. These false shepherds actually invent schemes to carry out and fulfill their lusts. Simply put, the name Jezebel is a byword for all that’s evil and detestable in the eyes of the Lord.
What a perplexing picture we’re given. These are people who love the Lord, devoted men and women of God. They’ve persevered, they’ve given faithfully, and they love Jesus. How could these believers be attracted to false prophets? How could they ever be seduced by wicked ministers whom God despises?
All through the gospels, Jesus warns of false shepherds who come seeking to devour, deceiving many. Yet I’m shocked by the lack of discernment in multitudes who abide their false gospels. Has this happened to you? Does your soul feed on some TV gospel that’s actually demonic? Do you drink in a message from prosperity preachers that appeals to your lusts and takes the last dimes of the elderly?
Jesus admonishes those who’ve faithfully stood against Jezebel ministers: “That which ye have already hold fast till I come” (2:25). He’s saying, “You’ve learned true discernment. You won’t let yourself be twisted by every wind and wave of doctrine. So, for now, just keep holding on. Don’t allow yourself to be deceived. That’s all I ask. I won’t put any other burden on you until I come back” (see 2:24)
The church of Ephesus described in Revelation 2 had lost the presence of Christ in their midst. I see a parallel in the world today. Some of the hardest people I’ve known are those who’ve worked for welfare departments and social agencies. These were sincere, dedicated workers but the suffering they witnessed daily became just too painful for them to face. The same thing can happen to Christians. Ministers and lay servants alike see so much pain and sin in the people they minister to, they can grow hard. That’s just what Jesus was saying to this pastor at Ephesus: “You once were so tender with others. You had such a love for people, and you listened to them. But now you turn a deaf ear. You sit with them, but you’ve hardened yourself to their cries. You’re doing ministry on a treadmill, with no life. I have no choice but to remove My presence from you.”
Spiritually hungry people won’t stay where Jesus’ presence is not evident. They’re desperate to know His nearness and when they don’t experience it, they go somewhere else to find it. I receive many letters with the same complaint: “I can’t find a church that’s alive with the Lord’s presence.”
I’ve witnessed the tragic backsliding of many Christians who’ve felt this way. They never find a church so they end up sitting at home and watching preachers on TV. They never get any meat in their spiritual diet and over time, a coldness sets in. Soon they’ve abandoned church altogether. They neglect the assembling of the brethren, which Hebrews warns against (see Hebrews 10:25) and they become totally indifferent to Christ and His presence.
I tell you, God won’t hear any excuses from such people. Jesus can be your all-in-all if you continue your personal communion with Him. No matter what condition your church is in, you are to be diligent in giving Him precious time. You must drink deeply of His presence if you want His Word to come alive to you.
In light of Revelation 1-3, every believer must ask himself: “Have my good works—my Bible studies and my service—robbed me of time with Jesus? Do I still hunger for Him as I once did? Or have I lost something?”
Perhaps right now you’re suffering an excruciating trial. Yet, you know the reason behind it isn’t that God is dealing with sin in your life. So you wonder why the Lord is allowing you to endure such awful pain.
It could be that the furnace of your affliction is meant to bring you into a life-changing revelation. This is exactly what happened with Job. In the midst of his suffering, Job made an incredible discovery: Despite his pure knowledge of God, he didn’t truly know the Lord. He confessed, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6).
At the time Job experienced this trial, he was at least seventy years old; he had known about God all his life. At some point, Job had erected an altar to the Lord, where he spent many reverent hours praising and worshiping God. For years, God had taught him about His ways and mysteries. Job had been taught about the Lord’s consolations, His holiness, His character, His nature, His wrath, and he had learned about the majesty of God’s power and wisdom.
Yet, when Job’s mind-boggling crisis came upon him, he wasn’t able to see the Lord at all. Instead, God became to him nothing more than a vague theological term. The Lord who had been so much a part of his everyday life now seemed absent from everything Job was going through. Suddenly, God seemed like only a series of sermons, a dead word, a knowledge without any power or life behind it.
I believe this is what the Lord wanted to bring to the surface in Job’s life all along. You see, our loving Father wants His children to know Him more deeply than we can merely through worship services, Bible study or prayer meetings. He wants us to know Him intimately, in every aspect of our lives—and that includes during our deepest trials and sufferings. Our Lord longs to be more than a God of some dead-letter theology; He wants us to know Him as a Father who is all-knowing, ever near to us, holding everything in total control, in the very hollow of His hand.
Our present sufferings produce one of two things in us: either hard-heartedness and a spirit of unbelief, or a glorious vision of God’s control over everything concerning us.
John 6 contains one of the hardest passages for me in all of Scripture because it speaks of followers who end up rejecting Christ and turning away. It is a scene in which people literally left Jesus in droves (see John 6:66).
Jesus had just miraculously fed a crowd of thousands. The people were amazed and thrilled by what he had done, ready to follow this wonder-working Messiah. But when he challenged them about what they were really after, they scoffed and left by the masses.
Underlying this passage is a question for anyone who would follow Christ: “Who is in charge of your life, you or Jesus?” Do we allow God to have total direction of our lives? Or do we try to determine for ourselves what God wants of us?
Every Christian faces this question early in his or her walk with the Lord. From the outset, a battle takes place in us, a clash of two warring cultures. First, there is the outer culture of the world, which constantly urges, “How can you benefit from this?” Then there is the culture of God’s kingdom, which asks, “How can you serve the Lord and your neighbor?”
Jesus had already preached that the kingdom of God was at work in the world: “The kingdom of God is near” (Mark 1:15, NLT). In other words: “The kingdom of God is present among you.” Most of Christ’s listeners that day had the world’s mindset. They were driven mainly by what they could gain for themselves. When Jesus came along offering blessings, they flocked to him, saying, “Sure, if you’re going to provide me with everything, I’ll follow you. If you’ll heal my sick family members and answer my prayers, yes, absolutely, I’ll be your disciple.”
But what happens to our faith commitment if these things don’t come to pass for us? How committed to Jesus are we when we realize he’s not just our “assistant” in life? The same people in this scene who were quick to follow Christ were just as quick to reject him. Disappointed, they left, giving up on him.
Jesus knew this would happen. That’s why on the heels of performing a great miracle for those multitudes, he confronted them: “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs” (John 6:26, NLT). Is the same true of us today? Do we follow Jesus mainly because of his blessings or because he is Lord?