3:16 – The Rest of the Story – The Human Condition 4: Revelation

A Bible Study exploring all the 3:16s in the Bible as they illuminate

  • the Human Condition (Current location of study)
  • God’s Revelation of His Plan
  • God’s Fulfillment of His Plan
  • Our Response

So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:16)

So far we have seen three aspects of the human condition which apply universally to all humans:

  1. All humans are inherently evil (sinners) – discussed through Ecclesiastes 3:16
  2. God’s judgment will fall on all people, in two groups: His people, and His enemies – discussed through Habakkuk 3:16
  3. It is human tendency to ignore warnings about the approach of God’s judgment until it is too late – discussed through Nahum 3:16

This week’s 3:16 verse is addressed more specifically to God’s people. It comes from the book of Revelation. This final book of the New Testament was written (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) by the apostle John in the latter part of the first century A.D. John had been placed on an island (Patmos) in exiled imprisonment because of his Christian faith. John also provided us with the gospel of John and 3 letters (1 John, 2 John, and 3 John).

This book is essentially divided into two parts. The first part, chapters 1-3, is a first-person description of an encounter John has with the resurrected Jesus there on the island. The second part, chapters 4-22, relate a vision of end times and the grand tapestry of human history given to John “in the spirit”.

John identifies from the outset the purpose of this book (Revelation 1:1) – “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants the things that must soon take place.” Note that this revelation comes directly from and is attributed to Jesus. John then turns to a greeting (beginning in verse 4) directed to “the seven churches that are in Asia [modern-day Turkey].” There were, no doubt, more churches than these, but they were selected for specific messages as representatives of all churches. The map below illustrates the geographic context for this book.

The Setting of Revelation
Map showing the geographic context for Revelation, from the online ESV Study Bible

John then tells us the specifics of the vision he had of the risen Jesus (Chapter 1:10-20).

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

First, notice that there are two voices mentioned here. The first one was “like a trumpet” and the second was that of Jesus – self-identified as “the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore.” Jesus goes on to speak his direct messages to the seven churches (Chapters 2 and 3) and then in Chapter 4 John says that he hears the first voice again – “After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.” The rest of the book, then, is a description of all that John saw while he was “in the Spirit.” For the purposes of today’s study, though, we’re going to focus just on the letter to the church in Laodicea, as that’s where our 3:16 verse is found.

The general format of all seven letters to the churches is this:

  1. The speaker (Jesus) describes himself in terms introduced in Chapter 1.
  2. The phrase “I know” is used to introduce the church’s condition, both positive (except for Laodicea) and negative (except for Smyrna and Philadelphia).
  3. Words of comfort are offered followed by commands stemming from the diagnosed problem.
  4. All churches are commanded to hear and obey all of the letters.
  5. A blessing is promised to “the one who conquers.”

Here is the letter to the church at Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22). Notice from the numbered list above that Laodicea is the only church that got no commendation from Jesus. Here’s the letter:

“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

Examining this passage phrase by phrase:

to the angel of the church in Laodicea” – The Greek word for angel literally means “messenger” and is used here to refer to that person who carries messages from God to the church, e.g. the pastor. This letter (and each of the seven) is directed to the pastor of each respective church with admonishments for leading the church.

The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.” – All three of these phrases are direct attributions to Jesus. Jesus is the Amen by which we claim agreement with God. Read John Piper’s comments on what it means for Jesus to be our Amen. The faithful and true witness is the way that Jesus identified himself in John’s opening salutation in 1:5. Finally, when Jesus identifies himself with the beginning of God’s creation does not imply that he was created but rather that all creation originated through him. This is what his self-descriptions in Chapter 1 as being the “Alpha and Omega“, “who is and who was and who is to come“, and being “the first and the last” are referring to – his co-eternality with God.

because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” – This is the 3:16 verse for today’s study and it is a metaphor in which cold and hot temperatures relate to the usefulness or refreshment associated with cold and hot water, but the repulsiveness or lack of attraction of tepid or lukewarm water is contrasted with those. This is actually setting up a series of metaphors that are directly linked to Laodicean culture. Laodicea was well known in the region for its medical and textile industries. It offered solutions for a number of typical societal needs and deemed itself to be very well-off and self-sufficient. As an example of their attitude, there was a large regional earthquake in A.D. 60. The emperor offered financial recovery assistance to Laodicea, but Laodicea refused to accept it, being determined to take care of itself (as related by the Roman historian Tacitus). This attitude of self-sufficiency sets up the rest of the letter.

you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” – This statement points to the fundamental lack of Laodicean self-awareness about the true nature of their spiritual condition.

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” – This is a plea from Jesus for them to begin to acknowledge their shortcomings and true need and seek solutions from Him. They need His gold to solve their spiritual bankruptcy, His garments to cover their nakedness, and His ointment to heal and open their eyes. None of these things can be bought with anything they have, but rather are provided through His grace. This echoes Isaiah 55:1-3: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” God’s provisions are opposite to what we would expect. They only come when we realize how unable we are to provide for ourselves!

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” – This statement is a necessary reminder to true believers… that loved children of God will experience His reproval and discipline to push us toward repentance and righteousness. It is a reminder to the Laodiceans who may feel affronted by God’s charges against them.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” – Jesus reminds the Laodiceans that He does not force His way in but gives people the opportunity to willingly invite Him. This willing invitation to Jesus to “come in” will result in lasting fellowship with Him.

The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” – The conquering that occurs here is the conquering of self. The main problem of the Laodiceans was a feeling of self-sufficiency and not needing help from anyone (including God). If they can humble themselves and set that attitude aside, then they will be able to be used by Jesus and reign with Him. Notice that Jesus says “as I also conquered”. He indeed conquered sin and death, but first he conquered himself. He was fully human and subject to temptation (but without sinning). When he was facing his crucifixion he prayed “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will. (Matthew 26:39)”

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” – This, and each of the seven letters, finish with this phrase to remind the reader that these messages are intending for the learning of all the churches (e.g. all of God’s people).

The 3:16 verse for this study was “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” This warning relates to the human condition of those in the church. Beware of being lukewarm. Be hot (e.g. soothing to those in need of warmth) or cold (e.g. refreshing to those who are thirsty) – these are both good. If you are lukewarm, you are neither of these and in danger of being “spat out”. Remember Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:15-23):

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Check your fruitfulness. Don’t be one of those who wrongly thinks he is self-sufficient and has all he needs. Seek God and His righteousness. Buy from Him His gold, His white garments, His eye salve by depending on and relying on the sufficiency of Jesus’ death and resurrection purchase of eternal life on your behalf!

Next week we’ll finish the first segment of this 3:16 study (the human condition) by looking at Romans 3:16.

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