Bible Study with Jairus- Revelation 3 Part 3
The Lord’s Work in the Church in Laodicea Opened the Heavens
Unlike the letters to the other churches, Jesus’ letter to the church at Laodicea does not begin with words of praise. Instead, it only appears to contain criticism. To further understand Christ’s rebuke to Laodicea, let’s look at Christ’s words through Paul to the sister church in Colossae. Colossae and Laodicea were only about ten miles apart. The two churches shared each other’s spiritual resources, and may well have also shared each other’s problems. When Paul wrote to Colossae in 64 AD (about 25 years before the book of Revelation was written around 90 AD), Paul instructed that the epistle he wrote to the church in Colossae should be read in the church of Laodicea. The letter he sent to Laodicea should also be read to the church in Colossae (Colossians 4:16). However, this epistle no longer exists. Because Paul wanted the letter to the Colossians to be read to the church at Laodicea, it’s probable that the Laodiceans were struggling with the same things the Colossians were.
The book of Colossians mentions the strengths of the Colossian church and also mentions the areas where they needed improvement. The Bible was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so the rebukes to the Colossians were likely in the same vein as the rebukes to the Laodiceans in Revelation. We can refer to the book of Colossians to understand what Revelation says about Laodicea.
Twenty-five years before the Lord rebuked the Laodicean church in the book of Revelation, God had already warned them through Paul. Yet they had not repented. Neither church worked on their problems. This is why Paul later bemoaned that “all who are in Asia turned away from me” (2 Timothy 1:15). Jesus’ strong words to Laodicea in Revelation were a rebuke for their failure to repent. Paul had warned them 25 years earlier, but they had not repented. Instead, they had fallen into a state of lukewarmness.
Jesus promises Laodicea that if they overcome, they will sit on the throne with the Lord (Revelation 3:21). These promises are also consistent with the theme of the book of Colossians. The theme of the book of Colossians is to allow believers to grow up into him who is the Head, Christ. This means we will sit on the throne with Christ (Colossians 1:18). Immediately following the letter to Laodicea in Revelation, we read about John’s vision of heaven being opened (Revelation 4). This shows that God’s work with the church of Laodicea ushered in the opening of heaven.
Paul’s Exhortation to the Colossian Church
Let’s take a look at the exhortations Paul gave to the Colossian church and the Laodicean church through the book of Colossians. Perhaps this exercise can help us better understand the spiritual situation of the church in Laodicea. Paul begins Colossians 1 by praising the believers in Colossians for their “faith in Christ Jesus and the love they have for all the saints” (1:4). He also reveals that Jesus Christ is “first in everything” (v.18). Paul goes on to say, “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ” (Colossians 2:1-2). This statement reveals very clearly the burden Paul had for the believers in Colossae and Laodicea. He prayed for them to come to a full knowledge of Christ. But did they actually fully know Christ? No, we know that was not the case because Paul mentions in verse 4 that he fears that they will be deceived with enticing words. These enticing words include vain deceit, the traditions of men and the rudiments of the world (v. 8); ordinances (v. 14): meat, drink, holy days, new moon, Sabbaths (v. 16); pious self-denial, worshipping of angels (v. 18) and so on. All these works of the flesh were at work in the church in Colossae and the church in Laodicea. Therefore, after praising their faith, Paul urged them to abandon these deeds of the flesh. Jesus did not need to praise the Laodiceans in Revelation because he had already commended them through Paul in the book of Colossians, which he asked to be read to the Laodiceans as well. The letter in Revelation is just a continuation of this letter, giving further promises and exhortations to the Laodiceans.
In Colossians 3, Paul continues to encourage the believers to set their minds on the things that are above and not on earthly things, because they have been crucified with Christ (3:1-4). He goes on to encourage them to “put to death what is earthly in them: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry, on account of this, the wrath of God is coming on the children of disobedience” (3:5-6). Paul also wants them to put away “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from their mouth” (3:8). He asks them to stop lying (3:9) and to start forgiving (3:12-15). He instructs husbands and wives, parents and children, and earthly masters and servants to love one another (3:18-4:1) and to watch and pray (4:2). These exhortations are the words of the Holy Spirit to both the church in Colossae and the church in Laodicea. This is why Paul urged that the Book of Colossians be read in the church in Laodicea (4:16). The book of Colossians mentions several fleshly actions and attitudes that we must defeat before we can enter into the abundance of spiritual life.
Overcoming the Flesh is the Final Stage of Spiritual Victory
I believe there are three stages of spiritual maturity. The first stage is overcoming sin, when new believers overcome sinful habits that characterized their lives before salvation. After salvation, new believers need God’s presence and God’s word to constantly permeate their souls so they can break free from the sinful habits that try to control their lives. Even though the new believer will still be occasionally overcome by sin and transgression, it is possible to break free from habitual sin. For instance, a drug addict who comes to know Christ can be set completely free from his drug habit. Though he still sins occasionally, he has been freed from the habit of sin. Many Christians have experienced freedom and victory to a greater or lesser degree. Yet some still live in bondage to the shackles of sin. God wants us to be free from sin in our lives. This is the first stage of spiritual victory.
The second stage of spiritual growth is to break free from worldly influence. Even after overcoming sinful habits, a Christian can still be attracted to the world. Many Christians cannot seem to get rid of their attraction to the world, even though they have had victory over sin. There are many stories of Christians in the past who have learned to let go of the world to follow the Lord. For example, a famous evangelist from China, John Sung (Song Shangjie), had gotten a Ph.D. in the United States. But when he received a call from God to return to his country to preach the gospel, he got on a ship and threw his doctoral diploma into the sea. Another Christian tells the story of how he longed for the infilling of the Holy Spirit but couldn’t get it. He later realized that he valued his Ph.D. too much. He was proud of his doctorate and valued it more than he valued surrender to God. Because of this, he could not receive the infilling of the Holy Spirit. When he surrendered to God and was willing to give up his Ph.D., God immediately filled him with the Holy Spirit.
The third stage of Christian growth is overcoming the flesh. Being free from the flesh is the hardest challenge of all. Christians may attain victory over outward sin and let go of their love for the world, but it is very difficult to gain freedom from the flesh. Fleshly attitudes like jealousy, competition, and ambition will stand in the way of spiritual victory.
In the temple, there was a veil separating the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, and the veil was embroidered with cherubim. The cherubim represented the glory of God and prevented humans from entering the Holy of Holies. In Genesis 3, God stationed cherubim and a flaming sword in front of the tree of life to keep humans away. This is because man’s sinful flesh had made it impossible for man to get close to God. But after the Lord Jesus was crucified on the cross, the veil that divided the Temple was torn from top to bottom, signifying that God’s salvation on the cross had solved the problems of sin and the flesh. We can come back to God through Christ.
Although we understand this spiritual fact mentally, we often struggle to experience it. The phrase “entering within the veil” is often used as a metaphor for breaking away from the entanglement of the flesh and entering into intimate fellowship with God. Some people find it helpful to use the Old Testament tabernacle as an analogy for the stages of spiritual growth. The Old Testament tabernacle is divided into the Holy of Holies, the Holy Place, and the outer court. These three parts are often used to describe a person’s spirit, soul, and body, respectively. In our earlier stages of spiritual growth, we are in the outer court, working on overcoming sinful habits of the body. Before entering the Holy Place, we must remove the filth and defilement of the world, just like the priests who had to wash themselves in the bronze laver. We must experience sanctification and inner transformation of the soul (Romans 12:1). Inside the Holy Place are the table of showbread, the golden lampstand, and the golden altar of incense. These represent God’s provision, God’s illumination, and intimate fellowship with God, respectively. As we experience even closer fellowship with God, we enter within the veil, just like the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies. God punished Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu for entering the Holy of Holies with strange fire. In the same way, our flesh can not enter the Holy of Holies. If we do not overcome the flesh, it will be difficult to enter into God’s presence and experience deep fellowship with God.
The Lord’s Work in the Church in Laodicea Opened the Heavens
The Lord’s harsh criticism of the church in Laodicea does not necessarily mean that the Laodicean church was the worst. Remember, the letters to the churches reveal different stages of corporate and individual spiritual growth. It may simply mean that the Laodicean church should have known better. When we speak God’s word to others, we often deliver the message differently depending on the level of spiritual maturity of our audience. For instance, when a baby starts to walk, we praise everything he does. A six-year-old child, however, needs more discipline; and a teenager can be held to an even higher standard. In the same way, Jesus’ harsh words to Laodicea don’t necessarily mean the church was the worst off spiritually. It may just mean God had higher expectations for them.
Revelation 4 says that John saw “a door standing open in heaven.” He saw God on the throne, as well as the visions of the seven seals and the seven trumpets (chapters 5-11). I believe the door of heaven did not open until after John had written the last of the seven letters to the churches. We should all seek to have the door of heaven opened to us so we can see God on his throne and so we can observe his works. Only then can we become overcomers, represented by the male child in Revelation 12.
So how can the door of heaven be opened to us? The letter to the church in Laodicea reveals some clues to us. First, we must become people who are on fire for the Lord. A lukewarm believer will not experience an open door in heaven. I had heard testimonies about people being lifted up to heaven to meet the Lord, and I was very eager for such an experience. Every day at noon when I prayed, I asked God to give me such an experience. Then one night, my spirit really was lifted up to heaven and I saw the Lord. This experience shocked me greatly. A lot of people are so apathetic that they do not even pray for such an experience. But if you do not pray for this experience, you will never have it. The Bible tells us to ask and we shall receive (Luke 11:10). The Lord rewards those who long for His appearing. The lukewarmness of the church (Revelation 3:15-16) does not please the Lord.
Self-righteousness is another barrier that prevents us from experiencing an open door in heaven. Self-righteousness is a common problem among Christians who have been in the church for a long time. I remember an older brother in Christ saying he had always thought he had a lot of Biblical knowledge, and he was proud of his service to Christ in the church. But one day, he attended a conference where the preacher mentioned that we must not be self-righteous. This man was deeply shocked. He realized that he was actually spiritually poor. He had been distracted with his pride and self-righteousness, and the Lord’s work had already carried on without him. Because of this, he sold the house he had lived in for decades, moved to a new place, started a new church, and became a vigorous witness for Christ. His testimony inspired many people, including me.
This older man had a teachable heart and a willingness to repent and change course. His life is a beautiful testimony to God’s transforming work. But many older Christians find it difficult to break free from self-righteousness. To these people, Jesus says, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire” (Revelation 3:18a). Fire speaks of trials and God often allows self-righteous Christians to experience the fire of trials. These trials can purify them and refine their faith, like gold tried by fire.
The Lord went on to say in Revelation 3:18b, “And buy white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen.” Christians are often prideful about their righteousness and service to the Lord. When we are proud or arrogant about the work we do for the Lord, we often are too self-occupied to notice that we have lost our white garment. Just like the Pharisees, we are no longer clothed with the righteousness of God. Like the emperor without clothes, we live in our own deception.
The Lord goes on to say, “And buy salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.” Spiritual blindness is a common theme in the Bible. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their blindness. He said, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt, but now that you say ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (John 9:41). Spiritual blindness comes from pride, and it is often hard to see because it is hidden under the guise of loving God. Compared to worldly pride and other types of pride, spiritual pride is often the type of pride that is the most deeply hidden and difficult to detect. We become blind to our own pride. The main cause of the church’s blindness is spiritual pride.
The Lord rebukes and disciplines people filled with pride and tells them to repent. “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19). Again, this verse confirms that the Laodiceans may not have been the worst of all the churches. God clearly says that he loves the Laodiceans, and that is why he disciplines them. Jesus also says he stands at the door and knocks, and those who hear his voice will open the door, and he will come in and eat supper with them (Revelation 3:20). In the very next chapter, the heavens are opened. At the end of Revelation 3, the Lord wants to sit on his throne with the overcomers from Laodicea (3:21).
Conclusion: The Opening of Heaven in the Spirit
In our study, we’ve reached the end of the seven letters to the churches. The Lord’s work in the seven churches has come to an end. We can now enter into the next stage of his work in the book of Revelation. As we read about the experience of sitting on the throne with the Lord, we will surely see heaven open for us as well. The sky will become clear, and we will see God’s throne and his working. We will become more spiritually aware of God’s will for our lives, as well as his will for the world. Through our spiritual eyes, we will see that everything that happens is under the sovereign control of God. No matter what disasters, discipline, victory, or success may come our way, God is mobilizing all things to accomplish His will.