Revelation 3 – Part 3

“So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” Revelation 3:16

Jesus now speaks to the last of the seven churches. “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.’ ” (Revelation 3:14).

Laodicea was a large and prosperous city forty miles southeast of Philadelphia where many wealthy people retired, thereby establishing it as a renowned banking center. A medical center specializing in eye salve and a prominent wool industry famous for its glossy black garments added to its material prosperity. Because they lived in the midst of this affluent city, the believers dwelling there also became affluent. Unfortunately, these believers allowed their wealth to ruin their effectiveness for Christ, and they did not even know it! Because of their outward wealth they had no clue as to their inward poverty. Therefore, the Judge of the churches sends a stern rebuke in their direction to move them to repent as well as an invitation to open the door to close fellowship with Him once again.” 1

“Ancient pagans had hundreds of false gods to choose from, but modern pagans who may have rejected the worship of idols still have one false god that controls their lives: self. Self-expression, self-confidence, self-worth, self-reliance—these concepts all revolve around the myth that human beings have an inexhaustible source of strength within themselves. Such worthy people, of course, have trouble attributing all worth to God, which is the very definition of worship!

“Sadly, Christians aren’t immune to the disease of self-reliance. When believers in Christ rely on their own strength for good works, operating by the power of the flesh rather than by the power of the Spirit (Gal. 3:3), they produce ineffective and useless works. When believers think their own resources are sufficient, they glow with pride. And when believers look to themselves to provide for their own needs, they shine with self-sufficiency. Christ’s messages to the seven churches in Asia come to a close with a tragic letter to the self-sufficient, self-righteous, self-serving church in Laodicea. In their inexhaustible wealth and independent spirit, the Laodiceans were severely rebuked by the One who knew them better than they knew themselves. In fact, the Lord didn’t state a single word of commendation—only stinging reproof. That church suffered from pervasive self-reliance, hypocritical works done in their own strength, and an apathetic attitude toward the authority of Christ. Sadly, Christ’s hard words for Laodicea resonate with relevance for many churches and Christians today.” 2

Jesus refers to Himself as “the Amen” (lit. truly)3 because the Laodicean church needed the truth. As “the Faithful and True Witness,” Jesus would provide a faithful and true assessment of their spiritual condition (3:14a). “The Laodiceans had a reputation for saying and doing whatever was necessary to preserve their own well-being. In contrast with them, Jesus spoke the truth.” 4

Christ also refers to Himself as “the Beginning of the creation of God” because this church was self-sufficiently wealthy, and they needed to be reminded that everything they possessed was from their Creator God (3:14b). When churches forget this truth, they can begin to feel entitled to whatever they want. They can easily seek to be in control instead of yielding to God’s control.  

Non-Trinitarians think this phrase (“the Beginning of the creation of God”) means Jesus is a created being. But the Greek word translated “Beginning” (archē) means the “First Cause” of God’s creation. 5Jesus is the Creator or originating source of creation (Revelation 1:18; 2:8; 3:21; 5:13; cf. John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-16; Hebrews 1:2), not the first creature to be created. 6

Laodicea had suffered a severe earthquake that destroyed it, but its prosperous citizens had subsequently rebuilt it, without the aid of Rome. The Laodiceans were creative, but Jesus Christ alone was the Creator (cf. John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-16). 7 Jesus could also give them the spiritual wealth they so desperately needed in their current state of spiritual impoverishment. 8

Jesus then rebukes this church for being indifferent. 15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16). These believers in Jesus wereneither refreshing (“cold”)nor soothing or stimulating (“hot”). They were “lukewarm.”  

“This rebuke would have been especially meaningful to this church, for water was piped to the city from Hierapolis, a few miles north. By the time the water reached Laodicea, it was lukewarm!” 9

Nobody orders a lukewarm drink. They want iced tea or hot coffee. In the spiritual realm, God finds tepidness unappealing as well.” 10

Because the Laodicean Christians had no cool water for the spiritually thirsty people around them (cf. John 4:13-14) and they were not hot enough spiritually to stir up one another’s faith, 11 God was disgusted with them. He said, “I will vomit you out of My mouth.” Christ’s response to this self-reliant, self-righteous, and self-serving church was about the least flattering response you could receive, especially from the only Person in the universe Whose opinion matters the most. Essentially Jesus was saying,“You make me sick!”12

The phrase “I will vomit you out of My mouth, cannot be a reference to the loss of salvation because that would contradict John’s other writings (cf. John 3:15-16; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40; 10:28-29; 11:25-26; I John 5:1, 13). The Bible tells us that the gifts of God are irreversible. “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29). God promises eternal life as a free gift to all who believe in Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Romans 6:23). Since “the gifts … of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29) and eternal life is a “gift of God” (Romans 6:23), then eternal life is “irrevocable.” When a person believes in Christ for His gift of eternal life, it cannot be given back to God nor taken back by God no matter how the believer lives because it is irreversible or permanent (John 3:16; 6:35-40; 10:28-29; 11:25-27; Romans 8:31-39; et al.). God did not save us from hell because of our goodness (cf. Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7), and He will not abandon us because of our sinfulness (cf. John 6:37; Hebrews 13:5).

One of my mentors, Zane Hodges, thought it possible that the Lord is referring here to the Rapture or sudden removal of the church from the earth (Revelation 4:1-4; cf. I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11). The Lord Jesus will be so disgusted with the indifference and self-reliance of Christians at the end of the Church age (Laodicea is the last church listed during this age), that He will vomit them up to heaven through the Rapture (Revelation 4:1-4). Then He will start all over in the Tribulation with the Two Witnesses preaching the gospel of the kingdom during the first half of the 7-year Tribulation (Revelation 11:1-13) followed by the worldwide witness of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists in the second half of the Tribulation (Revelation 7:1-17; 14:1-5).

Not only does Jesus give these seven local churches warnings and encouragements that are as applicable today as they were in the first century, these letters also “prove to be prophetic of the history of Christianity following their writing. Most Christians in the first century may not have seen this, but one can hardly deny it now. It has become increasingly obvious as church history has unfolded. Chapters 2 and 3 are therefore prophetic, as are the rest of the chapters of Revelation.” 13

This is known as “the Historico-Prophetical View.” Proponents of this view understand the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 existed in the first century, and what characterized each of them has represented other local churches in various locations throughout church history. However, they also reveal the history of the church from the time John wrote to the Rapture in seven successive periods. 14

Constable writes, “A general scheme of the periods of western civilization that correspond to the conditions described in each of the letters to the seven churches is as follows: 15

Prior to the Rapture of the church (Revelation 4:1-4), Jesus gives some serious advice to this self-reliant church: 17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— 18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” (Revelation 3:17-18). Because the Laodiceans had become materially wealthy they thought they “had need of nothing,” including God (3:17a). The Laodiceans were materially “rich”; Christ says they are “poor” spiritually (3:17b). Laodicea had a world-famous medical center that was known for treating eye disease; Jesus informs them that they are “blind” spiritually (3:17c). Laodicea was a center for manufacturing clothing; Jesus declares that they are “naked” spiritually (3:17d). These believers were spiritually destitute, and they did not even know it.

“Here Jesus debunks a prominent lie of prosperity theology: being materially successful means God has blessed you. Not so. The Laodiceans said, I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing. But the external appearance of prosperity was not indicative of the condition of their hearts or their level of fellowship with God. They were spiritually uncommitted, carnal, and compromising. As Jesus put it, they were wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked spiritually.” 16

Because their self-estimate was so deeply flawed, the Lord gave them counsel as to exactly what they needed to do. Their ability to pull out of their disastrous spiritual condition rested on their paying the price they needed to pay spiritually.” 17

If someone told us that everything about us makes him want to vomit, we would not expect to hear from that person again. 18 But as “the Faithful and True Witness,” the Lord Jesus also continues to extend love and grace to His church no matter how unappealing her spiritual condition is. Christ counsels them to be faithful by instructing them to “buy” three things (3:18). Obviously, this is not talking about our salvation because Christ has already bought that through His sacrificial death on the cross (cf. I Corinthians 6:20; 2 Peter 2:1). 19 In addition, salvation is a free gift which cannot be bought (Revelation 21:6b; 22:17b; cf. Romans 4:5; 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9). But in Revelation 3:18, Jesus is speaking figuratively when He counsels them to “buy” three things that these complacent and carnal Christians need:

“gold refined in fire” which represents eternal rewards that stand the test of the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. I Corinthians 3:11-15). They were to be faithful to Jesus by having faith that is tested by fire (I Peter 1:6-7).

“white garments.” Their shameful nakedness was to be clothed, not by purchasing the sleek black wool that was made in Laodicea, but by buying “white garments,” which refer to being faithful to Christ through righteous conduct and serving God (Revelation 19:8), not out of selfish motives, but in a way that pleases the Lord (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:3, 9-10).

“eye salve.” Instead of purchasing the eye salve that was produced and sold in Laodicea, they were to buy a spiritual “eye salve” that would enable them to see more clearly on a spiritual level and remain faithful to Christ. For this to happen, they must see their desperate need to get into the Word of God and to ask God’s Spirit to help them understand and apply it to their lives (cf. John 9:6; James 1:22; 1 John 2:20, 27). 20

The church of Laodicea is typical of the modern church which denies its spiritual needs and is content with its beautiful buildings and all the material things money can buy. Notice that verse 18 does not tell us the purchase price for these items. We are not told how much the refined gold, white garments, and eye salve will cost us. The Lord Jesus will tell us this in the next verse.  

The believers at Laodicea may have felt Jesus was being overly harsh with them, so Christ reminds them, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” (Revelation 3:19a). Jesus’ rebuke of them is evidence of His love. If He did not love them, He would not rebuke them in their spiritually lukewarm condition. But Christ wants the best for them (and us), so He tells them what they need to hear, even though it may be painful for them.

If the Laodiceans did not listen to Jesus, His love for them would lead Him to “chasten” them. The word “chasten” (paideuō) literally means “child-training.” 21 It refers to correcting or instructing a child. 22 It is always an activity of God toward Christians, not non-Christians (cf. Hebrews 12:5-11). 23

“The church at Laodicea is typical of a modern church quite unconscious of its spiritual needs and content with beautiful buildings and all the material things money can buy. This is a searching and penetrating message.” 24

Jesus then says, “Therefore be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19b). How does a church or individual Christian buy gold refined in fire, white garments, and eye salve? That is, how does an indifferent church become spiritually healthy and earn eternal rewards? By being “zealous” for good works and “repenting.”

All Christians are to be known in the church and in their community as people who are zealous for good works – who are eager to please God. What do you have zeal for in your Christian life? A nice house? A car? A well-kept home? A large retirement plan? An attractive appearance? A bigger church building? These things are not wrong in and of themselves. But the number one aim in our lives should be to please God – to love Him above all else and our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39).

The word “repent” (metanoeō) refers to a change of mind or way of thinking. 25 The Laodiceans needed to change their minds and realize they did not have it all together spiritually and that their lives were not pleasing to the Lord. Whatever we are doing that is not pleasing to the Lord is to be corrected. We are to confess that it is wrong to God (I John 1:9) and start doing what we know is pleasing to Him.

The Laodiceans are to repent of their self-sufficient, half-hearted service, and remain faithful to Christ, fervently serving Him. Hence, when Christians are zealous for good works and repent of wrong attitudes and actions, they will…

– lay up refined gold or eternal rewards that stand the test of the Judgment Seat of Christ (3:18a; I Corinthians 3:8-15).

– be clothed with the proper white garments or righteous conduct that will glorify Christ in eternity (3:18b; cf. 3:5; 19:8).

– be able to see properly on a spiritual level (3:18c; cf. Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14).

Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” (Revelation 3:20a). Many Christians have mistakenly understood this verse to refer to salvation. But we have already seen that the “churches” in Revelation 2 and 3 refer to genuine Christians. In the context, the Lord Jesus has been talking about works, not faith; He has been addressing service, not salvation; He has exhorted us to be zealous for good works and repent of works that sicken the Lord.

The Lord is now saying if a church invites Christ in for dinner, He will come, and they will have fellowship together (3:20a). This verse is not to be taken literally. This is not a literal “door,” just as verse 18 was not to be taken literally. Amid their self-sufficient attitude, the Laodiceans had shut the Lord Jesus out from their church. The word “stand” (3:20a), literally means “I have taken My stand.” 26 It emphasizes a persistent dealing with the church. Christ persistently seeks intimate fellowship with this self-reliant church that has shut Him out. Hence, He asks permission to enter the church and re-establish fellowship with them.

Christ then says, “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20b). Notice that Jesus says He will come “in to” (two words) the person, not “into” (one word) the person. The Greek verb translated “come in” (eiserchomai) accompanied by the preposition translated “to” (pros) means “to come or go to someone.” This construction occurs eight times in the New Testament (Mark 6:25; 15:43; Luke 1:28; Acts 10:3; 11:3; 17:2; 28:8; Revelation 3:20) and each time it means to enter into a building and stand in front of a person. 27 Whenever “come in” (eiserchomai) is used of entrance into a person it is followed by the Greek preposition eis (Mark 9:25; Luke 8:30; 22:3; John 13:27) and refers to demon possession. The preposition eis deals with “the idea of entry, whereas pros tends to stop short of going up to (without entry).” 28 The result of Christ’s entrance “to” the person is a common meal shared – “I will… dine with him, and he with Me.” The Greek verb “dine” (deipnēsō) indicates that this is the main meal of the day, the one to which an honored guest would be invited. 29

This verse is speaking of entrance into a building toward a person, not entrance into a person. Jesus will not force His way into a church. Christ is saying that He will come in the church toward the believer who repents (hears His voice and opens the door of the church) and eat dinner with him, that is, have intimate fellowship with him.

How does one open the door so that Christ can come and fellowship with him? By being zealous for good works and repenting of the works that made the Lord Jesus vomit (3:19b).

Christ’s invitation here is not for lost sinners to believe in Him for the free gift of eternal life, but for His disobedient children to get close to Him once again. If any of these lukewarm believers did open the door to Him, Christ promises, ‘I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.’ This is a promise that they will enjoy close fellowship with Him once again.” 30

With Christ on the outside, there can be no fellowship or genuine wealth. With Christ on the inside, there is wonderful fellowship and sharing of the marvelous grace of God. This was an appeal to Christians rather than to non-Christians. This raises the important question concerning the extent of one’s intimate fellowship with Christ.” 31

Christ then promises, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” (Revelation 3:21). The believer who “overcomes” by humbly and zealously submitting to Christ in fellowship and service until the end of his life, will be able to “sit with” Him on His throne, as Jesus was humble and zealous in submitting to His Father’s will and was rewarded with sitting down with His Father “on His throne.” This promised reward assures the overcomer of close fellowship with Christ forever by receiving the honor of sharing His royal throne. This is a conditional reward because it is dependent on overcoming as Christ did. 32 Just as Christ overcame death by humble and dependent submission to His Father’s will, the Laodiceans can overcome their self-sufficiency and enjoy ruling with Christ by humbly and dependently submitting to Christ in fellowship and service.

The use of αὐτός (“to him”) in Revelation 2:17, 17, 27 and 3:21 indicates a restrictive kind of reference to the overcomer. It is a specific and restrictive way of showing that ruling with Christ applies only to the victor or overcomer, 33 not to every believer in Jesus.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:22). Only those Christians who “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” will be able toappropriate Jesus’ promise and live as “overcomers” so they may receive this ultimate reward of reigning with Christ in His coming Kingdom on earth. If they are lukewarm and then repent of the works that sickened the Lord Jesus and are zealous for good works, then they can receive the privilege of reigning with Christ in His future Kingdom on earth. The Lord Jesus uses rewards here, as with the other six churches, as a motivation to conquer sin and slackness—not as a motivation to salvation. 34

At the outset these faithful believers will rule with Christ on earth for a thousand years during the millennial kingdom (cf. Revelation 20:6). Throughout eternity they will reign with Christ on the new earth (cf. Revelation 21:10-11; 22:1-2). 35

As we read about the possibility of ruling with Christ in the future, we may not be very motivated by the thought of reigning with Christ or having rulership in the future world. Joseph Dillow has some key things to say about this.

“Those who have not persevered in faith, who have denied their King now will have feelings of deep shame and regret because they took Him for granted and wasted their lives. The pain will be acute, and there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“…Some may not find the motivation of rewards as significant in their walk with God as the other motivations… That said, it seems to me, that all of us should consider this biblical emphasis to live with the end in view.

“Furthermore, the notion of reigning with Christ… should not be trivialized as if it means various administrative positions in a kingdom or being a mayor of a city. The theme is much broader, and the vision more glorious. What is signified by these expressions is not so much administrative positions as the joy of participating with the Messiah in the final destiny of man, to serve Him and minister with Him in the millennium and the future world. We aspire to higher position because we can then be more effective in the service of our King… We will have greater opportunity to serve Him, to demonstrate our love and gratitude to Him, and to extend the knowledge of His love and goodness throughout the cosmos. To miss that is to miss much.” 36

If we find ourselves indifferent toward the things of God like the Laodicea Christians, it is not too late for us to change. Even if we haven’t been doing well in our service for Christ thus far, we can start today. The Laodiceans were not doing well, yet the Lord holds out the possibility that they might rule with Him in the future if they will be zealous for good works and repent of the works that sickened the Lord Jesus. 

In recovery programs like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics), while not perfect programs, they do have a lot to commend them. One of their slogans is very appropriate for this passage. It says, “Denial is not a river in Egypt.”

The Lord Jesus does not want us to be in denial. He wants us to acknowledge when we fall short and be zealous for good works. He wants us to aim to please Him in all that we do or say. If you want to be an overcomer, you will have to go all the way with Jesus Christ. You may say, “But it is too hard, and I am not getting any credit now.”  

Let me tell you about Henry Morrison, a missionary to Africa. He was coming home from Africa on a ship which was also carrying former President Theodore Roosevelt. When the ship docked in New York City, thousands of people were there to greet Roosevelt. But no one was cheering for Morrison.

Henry Morrison had served the Lord for forty years in Africa. As he watched the crowds greet Theodore Roosevelt, he became dejected to think he had served the Lord all those years and yet no one was there to greet him.

Morrison said that as he walked down the gang plank in a depressed mood, a voice whispered to him, “Henry, don’t worry. You are not home yet.” Then he said he saw a vision of multiplied thousands of Africans standing at the gates of heaven, those whom he had reached for Christ, applauding as he entered the pearly gates.

So if people are not recognizing you down here, if you are not getting any applause right now, don’t worry. You are not home yet. Remember what Jesus Christ has waiting for you if you remain faithful to Him. He will richly reward you with intimate fellowship with Him forever by giving you the honor of sharing His royal throne.

In summary, Christians who repent of their self-sufficient and half-hearted service for the Lord, and humbly and zealously submit to Christ in fellowship and service until the end of their lives, will be richly rewarded with a share in Christ’s glorious reign in His coming Kingdom (3:14-22).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the Faithful and True Witness Who alone is qualified to judge the self-reliant and self-serving church. You know that much of the modern church in America is a lot like the church of Laodicea. We have become lukewarm with complacency and self-reliance. We no longer seek to preach the gospel of grace to all people. Instead, we are captivated by our big, beautiful buildings and all the things that our money can buy. We are driven by our own desire for comfort instead of compassion for those who are perishing without You. This lukewarmness will eventually cause You to remove Your church from the earth via the Rapture so You may start over with the Two Witness at the beginning of the Tribulation. Lord Jesus, forgive us for the areas in our lives that have become lukewarm with apathy and complacency. Please enable us to repent of the works that disgust You and empower us to do good works for and with You until we go to be with You in heaven. We pray that we would keep the door of our hearts open to You so we may enjoy intimate fellowship with You now and be the channels through which Your blessings overflow to all with whom we come into contact. Thank You for reminding us that our eternal life is secure in Your finished work on the cross, but our eternal rewards depend on how we live the Christian life now on earth. No matter what the spiritual health of other believers or churches may be, You call us to be faithful and to keep You at the center of our lives if we are to receive the ultimate reward of sitting with You on Your throne in Your glorious Kingdom. In Your mighty and majestic name, Lord Jesus, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1514.

2. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 109-110.

3. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 53. 

4. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 56.

5. Bauer, pg. 138.

6. Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament (with Bible and Strong’s Numbers Added!), 6 Volumes (E4 Group, 2017 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 214976-214978.

7. Constable, pg. 56.

8. Vacendak, pg. 1514.

9. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.

10. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2376.

11. Vacendak, pg. 1514. 

12. Swindoll, pg. 113. 

13. Constable, pg. 61 cites M. J. Brunk, “The Seven Churches of Revelation Two and Three,” Bibliotheca Sacra 126:503 (July- September 1969), pp. 240-46.

14. Constable, pg. 63 cites John Peter Lange, ed. Commentary on the Holy Scriptures. 12 vols. Reprint ed., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960. Vol. 12: James-Revelation, by J. P. Lange, J. J. Van Oosterzee, G. T. C. Fronmuller, and Karl Braune. Enlarged and edited by E. R. Craven. Translated by J. Isidor Mombert and Evelina Moore), pg. 139; Arno C. Gaebelein, The Revelation (New York: Publication Office “Our Hope,” 1915), pg. 33; J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ Edited by J. Otis Yoder (Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1971, pp. 61-62; William Kelly, Lectures on the Revelation, New ed., (London: A. S. Rouse, 1897), pg. 24; Frederick A. Tatford, The Patmos Letters (By the Author, 1969; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, n.d.), pg. 106;  F. W. Grant, The Prophetic History of the Church (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, Publishers, n.d.);  Joseph A. Seiss, The Apocalypse (Charles C. Cook, 1900; reprint ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 64; C. I. Scofield, ed., Scofield Reference Bible (1917 ed.), pp. 1331-32; Harry A. Ironside, Lectures on the Revelation (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1946), pp. 35-36; John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), pg. 51; J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee. 5 Vol. 5 (Pasadena, Calif.: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983), pp. 900-926.

15. Constable, pg. 63.

16. Evans, pg. 2376.

17. Vacendak, pp. 1514-1515.

18. Swindoll, pg. 114. 

19. The word “buys” (agorazō) is the same word used to refer to Jesus’ payment for sin on the Cross (I Corinthians 6:20; 2 Peter 2:1).

20. Vacendak, pg. 1515.

21. Robertson, Kindle Location 215197.

22. Bauer, pg. 749.

23. EvanTell’s The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2014), pg. 1387.

24. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, pg. 164.

25. Bauer, pg. 640.

26. The Greek verb, hestēka, is a perfect indicative which means I took My stand in the past and continue to take My stand in the present.

27. Mike Cocoris, Evangelism: A Biblical Approach (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984, pp. 82-82.

28. Ibid, pg. 83 cites C.F.D. Moule, An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek, (Cambridge at the University Press, 1953), pp. 67-68.

29. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, pg. 98.

30. Vacendak, pg. 1515.

31. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, pg. 164.

32. William Ross, “An Analysis of the Rewards and Judgments in Revelation 2 and 3,” Dallas Theological Seminary ThM Thesis, 1971, pg. 50.

33. Richard Benedict, “The Use of Νικάω in the Letters to the Seven Churches of Revelation,” Dallas Theological Seminary ThM Thesis, 1966, pg. 42.

34. Evans, pg. 2377.

35. Vacendak, pp. 1515-1516.

36. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 1039-1040.

Revelation 2 – Part 1

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” Revelation 2:7

John now records “the things which are” (1:19b), consisting of the exalted Lord Jesus’ messages to the seven historical churches in Asia Minor in the first century (Revelation 2-3). Jesus gives these seven local churches warnings and encouragements that are as applicable today as they were in the first century. 1

There has been substantial debate about the meaning of “overcomers” in the book of Revelation. Two major interpretations are at the core of this debate. The perseverance understanding holds that all genuine Christians are overcomers. 2 This view argues that every believer is an overcomer (I John 5:4-5) who inherits eternal bliss (Revelation 21:7) and, therefore, proves his salvation with his works (Revelation 2:26). According to this position all true Christians will persevere in good works to the end of their lives.

The second interpretation understands the “overcomer” to be an obedient Christian who receives rewards for his faithfulness to God. 3 This view understands I John 5:4-5 to be true for all Christians. There is a sense in which all Christians are overcomers when they believe in Christ for new birth. This single act of faith at the moment of salvation is “the victory that has overcome the world” which is antagonistic toward this saving act of faith (I John 5:4b) and is satanically blinded to the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). But this interpretation understands that I John’s statements about overcomers is not the same as Revelation’s statements about overcomers as we shall now observe.

The word “overcome” comes from the Greek word nikaō which means to “be victor, conquer, overcome, prevail.” 4 John uses this word in Revelation to refer to victorious Christians who persevere in a life of faith.

It is important to understand that Revelation 2-3 is addressing Christians because the term “church” refers to believers. 5 The issue is not salvation, but discipleship or Christian growth because the focus is on persevering in works (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15), and not a single act of faith for salvation from hell (cf. John 4:14; 5:24; 6:35, 37-39; 10:28-29; I John 5:1-5, 13). For example, access to the “tree of life” (Revelation 2:7) is not based on a single act of faith in Christ (I John 5:1, 4-5), but upon obedience to Christ’s commands (Revelation 22:14). Revelation is talking about Christians being overcomers through obedience to Christ until the end of their lives so they can gain eternal rewards such as eating from the tree of life or ruling with Christ (cf. Revelation 2:8, 26-27; 3:21; 22:14).

Also, in Revelation there is the call to hear (Revelation 2:7a; cf. 2:10, 17, 29: 3:6, 13, 22). Only those Christians who hear the call and appropriate the promise will be able to live a victorious life for Christ. Jesus is addressing the whole “church” consisting of believers in the letter (Revelation 2:1; cf. 2:8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14), but the call is to the one “who has an ear” and to the one “who overcomes.”

With this understanding, let’s look at the first church Jesus addresses. “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.” (Revelation 2:1). Ephesus was the ‘New York City’ of the first century. Located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, it was a leading center of Greek culture as well as idol worship. Being a city of wealth and commerce, it contained the amazingly ornate temple of the goddess Diana (cf. Acts 19), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was also a city that had been effectively evangelized by Paul over the course of several years (cf. Acts 19:10, 20) and had become a gathering place of believers earnestly devoted to the Lord and His work. Unfortunately, over time these dedicated believers ‘left their first love.’ Therefore, with great concern the Lord speaks lovingly yet directly to His Bride in Ephesus to woo her back to her original devotion and zeal.” 6

Jesus describes Himself as the One “who holds [authoritatively with power] the seven stars [angels of the churches] in His right hand” and “walks in the midst of the seven lampstands [churches]in that He is involved in these local churches (2:1). Jesus was active among local churches in the first century and He remains active in churches today. Christ knows what is going on in our churches and He first offers encouragement.

2 I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.” (Revelation 2:2-3). Christ commends this church for their hard work, perseverance (“patience”), and discernment of false teaching and teachers (2:2-3). “They tested everything by the Scriptures and rightly found that some so-called apostles did not teach pure doctrine.” 7 “In general this church had continued in its faithful service to God for more than 40 years.” 8

Next, Christ Jesus rebukes this church. “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Revelation 2:4). The order of words is emphatic in the original language; the clause could be translated, “Your first love you have left” (τὴν ἀγάπην σου τὴν πρώτην ἀφῆκας). 9

While this church had excelled in their service for Christ and their orthodoxy, they had left their “first love.” This refers to their original love and devotion to Jesus. They were doing the right things now, but not with the same love and devotion they had in the beginning.

“They had correct doctrine, but not a correct heart. The key word here is first, not love. As with romantic love between a man and a woman, first love always involves passion. Yet there was not passionate pursuit of an intimate relationship with Christ in the church. They were merely following a program. Duty had replaced devotion.” 10

This can happen to any church or individual Christian. We start out passionate in our love for Jesus considering all He did for us in saving us from our sins. But as the years pass by, we can easily shift from passionate love for our Savior to more of a program mentality whereby we function out of duty instead of devotion to Christ. We go through the motions, but our heart is not connecting to the Lord like it was in the beginning of our Christian lives. We can become so familiar with the teachings of the Bible that we become less sensitive to what God is saying to us. Familiarity can produce apathy in our Christian lives.

How can we regain our first love for Jesus? How can we restore that original devotion and passion we had for our Savior? The Lord gives us three commands in this one verse: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5).

REMEMBER. We can regain our first love for Jesus if we “remember” our original love and devotion for Him. Think back to what it was like when you first became a Christian. Remember how the Bible came alive for you? It was so new and life-giving. The beauty of Jesus’ love and grace for us captured our hearts. Talking to the Lord was such a joy. It is important to remember those early days in our Christian life to rekindle that original love for Christ.

– REPENT. The word “repent” (metanoeō) means a “change of mind.” Jesus was calling the church to change their thinking about their love for Him. Jesus was not a program; He was a Person Who loved them infinitely. As their thinking about Christ changed, so would their affections. The more they could see Jesus as Someone Who loved them and enjoyed their presence, the more passion they would have about connecting with Him and serving Him. The same is true for us today.

– RETURN. Jesus was also inviting them to return to “the first works” that increased their love for Him. As a new believer in college, I remember memorizing the book of I John. I worked at the University of Iowa Hospital until 11 pm at night, so when I walked home it was very dark outside. I would recite my I John verses aloud as I walked home. Those were some of the most intimate times I ever had with the Lord Jesus. God is inviting His church to return to those works we did early in our relationship with Christ that brought us closer to Him.

Should the church at Ephesus (or any church) refuse to “repent,” the Lord would “remove” their “lampstand” or witness and close their doors which eventually happened in the fifth century. 11 In fact none of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 exist today because each one failed to maintain a repentant attitude toward the Lord. Such will be the fate of any church whose activity is about them rather than about the Lord Jesus. Failure to prioritize intimacy with God will result in the removal of one’s influence for Christ. As one commentator notes, The church that loses its love will soon lose its light, no matter how doctrinally sound it may be.” 12

Following this warning, the Lord Jesus added one more commendation. “But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (Revelation 2:6). The Greek word for Nicolaitans means “to conquer the people.” 13 Little is known of the Nicolaitans, but their name typifies any system that focuses on dominating people rather than serving them. 14

Jesus then says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7). Jesus is addressing the whole Ephesus church consisting of believers (Revelation 2:1), but the call is to the one “who has an ear” and to the one “who overcomes.” Only those Christians who hear the call and appropriate the promise will be able to live a victorious life for Christ till the end of their lives on earth and receive Christ’s promised reward.

Thus, the overcomers spoken of here in chaps. 2–3 are those people who not only believe in Christ for eternal life, but also walk in godliness (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-11) and remain faithful to Him until the end of their lives (cf. Matthew 25:20-21; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:26).” 15

Jesus promises to reward the overcomer for his or her faithfulness by giving them the privilege “to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” “There is a connection between the ‘tree of life’ and man’s rule over the earth. Adam in his unfallen state had access to this ‘tree,’ but when he fell, God kept him from it (Genesis 1:26-28; 3:22).” 16 The tree of life will be “in the midst of the Paradise of God” in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:2, 14).

This reward is reminiscent of the original paradise in Genesis 1– 2 where Adam and Eve were allowed to eat from any tree in the Garden, including the tree of life. At the end of the Book of Revelation, the tree of life is described as bearing twelve kinds of fruit, one for each month, with leaves that bring healing to the nations (22:2). Not everyone has the right to eat from the tree of life (22:14). A person can forfeit the right to eat from the tree by adding to or taking away from the words of Revelation (22:19). Aside from this, little is known about the tree of life, but its vagueness makes this reward even more tantalizing and motivating.” 17

People love to eat! I enjoy eating food every chance I get! The Lord Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what will motivate us to live faithfully for Him till the end of our Christian lives on earth. Christ promises the faithful believer access to “the tree of life” in the New Jerusalem in the future (Revelation 2:7; cf. 22:2, 14). Eating the fruit from the tree of life may give faithful believers the resources to rule more effectively on the new earth (Revelation 2:25-27).

Imagine standing before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive your rewards from King Jesus (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). He tells you that because you were not faithful to Him till the end of your Christian life, you will forfeit certain rewards which include ruling with Him and eating from the tree of life (cf. Revelation 2:7, 25-27; 3:21; 22:2, 14). Think of the regret, sadness, or shame you will have at this time (cf. Matthew 25:18-19, 22-30; Luke 19:15, 20-26; I John 2:28). If only you had remained faithful to Christ, such rewards could have been yours.

Now fast forward to the New Jerusalem on the New Earth (Revelation 21-22). You are sitting at a table in the New Jerusalem with your friends or family, and one of them receives a call from the office of King Jesus, informing them that they have a special meeting with the King in an hour. At this meeting, fruit from the tree of life will be served for all to enjoy who are invited to this gathering. Because you were not faithful to Jesus till the end of your Christian life, you will not receive such a call nor have access to this special fruit.

Even though there “shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying…” and “no more pain” on the New Earth (Revelation 21:4), you will not be able to experience as much closeness and enjoyment with King Jesus as those who were faithful to Him to the very end. Only those believers who hear the call and appropriate the promise (“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says”) will be able to live a victorious life for Christ (Revelation 2:7). All believers will be in heaven, but not all believers will experience the same degree of rewards in heaven. Specifically for the church at Ephesus and those like it, those who do not lose passion for Christ in this life will experience a special place of intimacy with the Lord” 18 in heaven. Knowing this now is intended to motivate us to live faithfully for Christ with an undying love and devotion for Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, as we listened to Your message to the church of Ephesus, our hearts have been stirred. We know that we have lost the love and devotion we once had for You. Instead of prioritizing intimacy with You, we have focused on programs and performance. We have done things for You, but not with You. Thank You for loving us enough to confront us and woo us back to our original love and devotion for You. Lord, we want to regain our first love for You. Help us to remember the beauty of Your love and grace for us at the beginning of our relationship with You. Grant us a change of attitude toward You so we are not so careless to put ourselves ahead of You. Enable us to return to those things we did when we were passionately in love with You. May our love for You in some small way reflect Your incredible love for us. Thank You for promising us access to the tree of life if we will remain faithful to You to the end of our lives on earth. In Your glorious name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1501.

2. James Rosscup, “The Overcome of the Apocalypse,” Grace Theological Journal, 3:2 (1982): pp. 261-286; John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus, Revised and Expanded Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988, 1994), pp. 123-133, 134-148, 164-172, 188-194, 252-254.

3. Harlan D. Betz, “The Nature of Rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ” (Th.M. Thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1974), pp. 36-45; Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse (Dallas, TX: Redencion Viva, 1985), pp. 97-111; Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings (Miami Springs, Fla.: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 37, 470, 474; Arlen L. Chitwood, Judgment Seat of Christ (Norman, Okla.: The Lamp Broadcast, Inc., 1986), pg. 48.

4. pg. 673.

5. Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse, pg. 108.

6. Vacendak, pg. 1502.

7. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2371.

8. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.

9. Ibid.

10. Evans, pg. 2371.

11. Walvoord, pg. 164.

12. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 31 cites Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary Vol. 2 (Wheaton: Victor Books, Scripture Press, 1989), pg. 572.

13. Vacendak, pg. 1502.

14. Constable, pg. 31.

15. Vacendak, pg. 1504.

16. Constable, pg. 33.

17. Vacendak, pg. 1504. 18. Evans, pg. 2372.