The Laodicean Church was one of seven specific, literal church congregations to receive the entirety of the book of Revelation from the pen of the apostle John. Contained within its pages' was a special letter to that specific church from Jesus Christ of Nazareth! Did that message mark the Laodicean congregation as a sure victim of spiritual labelism? What if you had actually lived in a small city in Asia Minor called Laodicea at that time? What if you had been a first-century member of that literal Laodicean Church? Would you have suffered the shame of some kind of awful spiritual stigma? Only one human being in the entirety of the history of humankind has ever had any possible voice in choosing his human parentage. His 'name was Jesus Christ of Nazareth!
The rest of us human beings haven't had any choice in the matter. You had nothing to do with either who your parents were or what particular piece of real estate they happened to occupy when you were born. You had nothing to do with your racial origins, your color, your country, your sex or even your native intelligence. You were pretty much a "victim" of genes and chromosomes.
You had no choice in either the particular millennium or the century of your birth. Ostensibly, you could have been born somewhere in Asia Minor on a Roman mail route some time in the midst of the first century A.D. By the end of that century, you could have been a fiftyish citizen of the actual city of Laodicea.
You could have even been a bona fide, baptized, called and converted member of the Church that Jesus Christ built at the specific time the apostle John sent the book of Revelation to seven specific congregations in your country — one of which was y ours!
Review and Background. In the November number of The Good News, I explained that each message to each of the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 is also intended for the Church as a whole in all ages.
I further noted that everyone of the seven churches had the opportunity to read not only Jesus Christ's own direct testimony to them personally, but also to the other six congregations. Each one was, so to speak, "in on" the sins of the others.
The letter to the Ephesian Church (Rev. 2:1-7) was expounded in the light of the fact that it may be the first of seven successive eras of God's Church down through history. The article absolutely proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no shame, sin, or stigma involved in martyrdom. On the contrary, it can be (and most often is) a great honor in God's sight. Most of the original apostles — all ostensibly members of the Ephesian Era — were martyred in apparent relative obscurity (with the possible exception of James, the brother of John; see Acts 12:1-2). (Apparently John himself died of old age.)
That first installment concluded with the thought that Christians in God's own Church ought not to judge one another's spiritual infirmities by hanging derogatory labels on certain churches, or even church eras (Matt. 7:1-2; James 4:11-12).
So much space was spent explaining the significance of Jesus Christ's own direct personal letter to the church at Ephesus that I just never got around to the other six churches. We pick up the story with Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-11).
Smyrna — "Faithful Unto Death." "And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works. and tribulation, and poverty... " (verses 8-9).
Wait just a minute! Does Jesus Christ of Nazareth mean to say that a church that belongs to Him could actually be poverty stricken, and still be in His favor? Could anyone in the Church actually be impoverished if he (or she) is applying the book of Proverbs, if he is hard-working, if he is thrifty and equitable, if he is a good provider for his family, if he is laying up for his grandchildren? Wouldn't abject poverty automatically be irrefutable proof of obvious spiritual squalor as well?
Can't we grasp the fact that sometimes a people can be impoverished by corrupt government officials against their own will? Sometimes members of God's Church in past ages have been literally persecuted into a condition of poverty !
Notice the apostle Paul's description of God's people in "the faith chapter": "... Others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea. moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins [not the finely tailored varieties]; being DESTITUTE, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth" (Heb. 11:36-38).
Here in Revelation 2:9, Jesus Christ of Nazareth lumps the terms "works, and tribulation, and poverty" all together in His commendation of the Church of God at Smyrna.
Persecution and Martyrdom Mentioned Once Again! Christ continued in verse 10: "Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation [great troubles] ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."
This scripture simply underscores my point that persecution and martyrdom are in fact a great badge of spiritual worthiness in God's sight. Something is not necessarily terribly wrong and evil in the Church simply because it is receiving great persecution!
The apostle Paul asked: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness [extreme poverty], or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy [Christ's] sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter" (Rom. 8:35-36).
Paul's answer? "Nay [of course not], in all these things [persecution, poverty, martyrdom, etc.] we are more than conquerors through him that loved us" (verse 37).
The closing verse in the letter to Smyrna is of especially vital significance to God's Church today. "He that hath an ear [has spiritual comprehension], let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches [plural, all seven], He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death" (Rev. 2:11). (Everyone of the seven churches is told to listen and heed the messages to all seven — not just their personal one! Each one is also told to overcome!)
The time may well come in your lifetime and mine when true Christians will again be brutally martyred (mainly by mad religionists and political power brokers) for their beliefs. Jesus said: "Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another" (Matt. 24:9, 10).
There is no true Church of God residing in the ruins of Smyrna today. It's gone! Many undoubtedly suffered martyrdom. The literal historic congregation was persecuted, scattered and finally disappeared in to history.
But the message of impending martyrdom, especially for the Smyrna congregation, was also a very real possibility for any member of the other six churches along that Roman mail route. Remember always that Jesus Christ of Nazareth warned seven different times to "hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" (plural).
"And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty... " (Rev. 2:8, 9). Additionally, Christ's warning of probable persecution and even martyrdom — "be thou faithful unto death" — may have applied to a whole era of God's Church typified by Smyrna. History shows that there were great persecutions in post-apostolic times.
If the Roman government found out that a group practiced a religion of one called Christ us, they were very likely arrested, dragged away from their homes, had their property confiscated, and were possibly thrown into an arena for the pleasure of hordes of cheering barbarians hungry for violence.
I have to ask again: Is persecution or martyrdom the worst possible label you can wear? Notice in the message to the next church, in Pergamos, that Antipas was Christ's faithful martyr! (Rev. 2:13.)
An Open Door. Skip ahead to the church at Philadelphia. Jesus Christ says: "... Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it" (Rev. 3:8). If there is any one phase or era of the Church of God that most characterizes its present activity in the twentieth century, it is the fact of an open door provided to preach the gospel to the world.
But the account (Rev. 3:7-13) says absolutely nothing about the Philadelphia Church (or era) having brotherly love as an outstanding characteristic. The original city was given that Greek name, but that doesn't mean that it had any more love than anyone of the other six churches.
It does go on to say that the Philadelphia Church "has a little strength" (Moffatt translates it "only a little strength") and had kept the Word of God and not denied the name of Jesus Christ (verse 8).
And because of some of these positive characteristics, Jesus Christ said to this church: "I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth" (verse 10). Here is a promise of apparent future protection from the Great Tribulation, but it doesn't specifically say how, when or where. It is all too easy to gather together a number of vague scriptures about the Middle East and assume that the one and only "place of safety" is there.
But notice an almost forgotten scripture in the book of Luke. "And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out... " (Luke 21:20-21).
Judea was one of the Roman provinces of that part of Palestine surrounding Jerusalem. This prophecy specifically spoke only to those who were in Judea, and not even those who might have been in other parts of Israel, Samaria, "the Negev," or that desert area around the Dead Sea and to the southeast, encompassing the mountains between the gulf of Aqaba and Amman, the present-day capital of the nation of Jordan.
Notice very carefully what this prophecy DOES say: "... Flee to the MOUNTAINS"! There is no specific mountain, or even any specific "mountains" or mountain range, mentioned in this prophecy. Those who would be in the environs of Jerusalem were told to flee to "the mountains," which could mean virtually in ANY direction from Jerusalem, since Jerusalem is in the top of a mountain range between the Dead Sea and the Maritime Plain above the Mediterranean. Hence, those in the city Jerusalem could flee to any point of the compass, whether north, east, south, or west, and even though they might actually be descending, rather than ascending into higher mountains, they would nevertheless be fleeing (in whatever direction on the compass) "to the mountains"!
Further, the prophecy and the warning merely tells those "in the midst of it" (meaning the midst of that one province called "Judea") to get out! It does not tell this group of individuals where, specifically, to go — only as is inferred by the earlier statements that they ought to flee to a wilderness area, or "to the mountains."
Boiling Caldron. But what about those Christians who are not in Judea and perhaps not even in the Middle East? Jesus continued: "... And let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto" (verse 21). Jesus' best advice seems to be to stay out of the Middle Eastern area if you are not already there. According to some of the prophecies in Daniel 11 and elsewhere, the Middle East is going to be a boiling caldron. Not exactly the best place to be for your physical health.
My point is that God can protect you anywhere you happen to be at the time! Psalm 91 talks about a thousand falling at your side and ten thousand falling at your right hand, but with no' harm coming to you. It may be partially a matter of your spiritual temperature at the time or maybe even your capacity to withstand brutal persecution or martyrdom! God says He will not try us beyond our breaking point (I Cor. 10:13).
After describing some of the horrible terrors accompanying the Great Tribulation, Jesus Christ says in verse 36 of Luke 21: "Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things [previously described in the chapter] that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man." No doubt about it! There is a promise of physical (and not just spiritual) protection in the Bible at the time of the Great Tribulation. But where? In one single location somewhere in the Middle East called "a place of safety"?
"Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man" (Luke 21:36). Take another look at the Olivet prophecy in Matthew 24. Pick it up in verse 29, where it leads into Christ's second coming: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days [the Great Tribulation also described in Daniel 12, Jeremiah 30 and Revelation 3:10] shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light... and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect [from where? from a place of safety? No!] from the four winds, from one end of heaven [meaning the earth's atmosphere] to the other" (verses 29-31).
People are being called into God's Church from almost every nation under heaven. And the Bible certainly indicates that the people of God will still be scattered over the whole globe right up to the time Jesus Christ sets H is feet on the Mount of Olives. Notice Mark's companion account. "And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven" (Mark 13:27).
The language used here is all-encompassing; every converted Christian (those having God's Holy Spirit) will be gathered together into one place at the direct behest of Jesus Christ Himself. But this occurs at the time of His second coming — not prior to it. Right up to that time, Christians will be scattered to the uttermost parts of the earth, to use Jesus Christ's own language.
Christ ends His personal letter to the Philadelphia Church with the old familiar phrase stated seven times in the space of two chapters: "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches [plural]" (Rev. 3:13). The message to Philadelphia is for all congregations and eras of God's Church in all ages.
Pity the Poor Laodicean! To repeat my earlier supposition, what if you had had the "misfortune" of being born in Laodicea about the middle of the first century? Further: what if you had been "unlucky" enough to have actually been a called, chosen and converted Christian in the Laodicean Church of God when the book of Revelation was delivered by a messenger? Would you have suffered the shame of some kind of an awful stigma?.
Probably not! Members of the original, historical church congregation in the city of Philadelphia (having only a little strength) probably didn't waste much of their time indulging in the dubious practice of hanging defamatory spiritual labels on Laodicean Church members.
But to many a modern Church member today, "Laodicean" rhymes with "lost"; it's like a strange disease, a curse; it's almost a "sin" to be a member of the Laodicean Church.
Isn't it about time we prayerfully cleared our minds of these cobwebs of misconception and sheer assumption? Isn't it time members of the true Church of God began to quit hanging snide spiritual labels on fellow Church members? Isn't it time that we began to practice a little Christian tolerance?
Did the Laodicean Church have its problems? You bet it did! And probably more than its share. But did the other six churches also have supremely serious problems? You bet they did! The Ephesus Church lost their first love. Members of the Pergamos congregation (at least a few) were involved in some type of hideous sex ritual as a part of a religious service. Thyatira tolerated a false prophetess who advocated illicit sex and virtual idol worship; Sardis was afflicted with spiritual senility; and, yes, the Philadelphia Church had its problems too!
They were told to hang on to their crowns, and that they only had a little strength by and of themselves.
And don't forget this vitally important point. Individual members of the Philadelphia Church were afflicted with most of the problems that the other six churches had. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."
God's Church today has problems! Does that shock anybody? I certainly hope not! Brethren, the Church of God has always had problems; it has problems now, and it always will right up until the day that Jesus Christ of Nazareth sets His feet upon this earth once again!
Seven different times in the letters to the seven churches, Jesus Christ tells us to overcome our problems. He tells the Laodicean Church to repent of their lukewarmness! And you know, that is always a distinct possibility! The Savior of all of humankind — the One who spilled His blood on the earth — doesn't tell the members of His own Body to do something He knows they simply aren't capable of. Human beings can repent, and believe it or not — they sometimes do!
Correcting of Error. Because of ignorance, liberally laced with carnal "judging" of one another, not a few have assumed that "Laodicean" also 'rhymes with "left." They like to view any alleged "drift" (meaning any correcting of error of the past, in reality) in the Church as a dangerous compromise with principle; a "plot" to "drag the Church" into the "Laodicean Era," and hence seal its fate, forcing the Church to miss out on a "place of safety" and to end up in the ignominious condition of martyrdom!
This attitude has become so firmly fixed in the minds of some few that no amount of plain, clear, biblical teaching to the contrary will dislodge it! Shockingly, some have become so completely preconditioned to these false concepts about "Laodiceanism" that they will find themselves unable to agree with the straightforward proofs they can see, from their own Bibles, of their error!
The Church of God has always had problems; it has problems now, and it always will right up until the day that Jesus Christ of Nazareth sets His feet upon this earth once again! To these people, there is always a "plot" afoot to change the present character and nature of the "Philadelphian" Church into the terrible, "satanic" and "worldly" ways of the "Laodicean" Church! They cannot see that the Laodicean congregation then, and that number of people who allow themselves to be identified with the similar-type attitudes now, are members of God's true Church; that the Laodicean Church is not the "Church of the Devil" but the Church of God! To these people, a "Laodicean" is the same sort of near epithet those Jewish people during Jesus' day attached to a "Samaritan"! It is a terrible spiritual condition — a terrible label to wear.
But those who are willing to drink in of the plain truth of God's sacred Word will see clearly that the remnants of God's Church still alive just prior to Christ's second coming will be living in the most troublous times in all of history; that their personal and collective trials will be enormous; that many of them will be brutally put to death for their beliefs (the same fate their Savior suffered; as did Peter, Paul, James, Stephen and so many prophets and righteous men down through the centuries); that others, not being able to withstand such physical suffering, will be given a "way out" — a way whereby they may be able to "bear" their fate: a place of physical (temporary) protection and shelter!
When Peter was curious about John's fate, Jesus said, in effect: "Peter, what does it matter to. you if I decide he shall remain, and you will not? I will decide, Peter — for my purpose and my work — who shall remain and witness for me longer, and who shall be martyred!" Jesus showed Peter the time would come when hands would be placed upon him to "lead him where he wouldst not," indicating Peter would be martyred for Christ!
Was one fate more "honorable" than the other? Was one apostle more "righteous" or more deserving than the other? Or was it a matter of God's choice in which case which individual would do the better job?
If you allow yourself to lose your first love, like the Apostolic Era did — God tells you to repent and to strive to recapture it. If you live in a satanic environment of one of the big cities with its incredible crime, immorality, pollution and temptations, God commands you to repent, and to hold fast to your salvation. If you are becoming spiritually dead like Sardis, God commands you to repent and to be made alive! If you are drifting into a sleepy, lethargic "Laodicean" attitude, God commands you to REPENT, and to WAKE UP out of your sleep!
But above all things, don't make the pharisaical mistake of saying to God: "I thank thee that I am not as other men... or even as this publican [Laodicean]." It's far safer to be in the publican's attitude of "God, be merciful to me a sinner!"