Following a sermon in which Laodicea and Laodiceans received a sound thrashing, a friend of mine said to the speaker, “I’m sure glad I’m a Laodicean!” The speaker was aghast. “Why would you say that?” he asked. “Because,” my friend replied, “if I were not a Laodicean, I would not be a part of God’s true church at all!”
Was he right?
In Seventh-day Adventist circles, the words “Laodicea” and Laodicean” carry some pretty negative connotations. And it is true; the Bible does not paint a rosy picture. “Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. . . . [You] do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:16, 17).
Jesus uses six uncomplimentary adjectives to describe Laodicea’s spiritual condition, and Adventists have evidently decided that “lukewarm” is the least threatening. (Can you imagine belonging to the miserable church?)
Nevertheless, taken as a whole, here is a graphic description of the most unkempt, ragged, sightless, and homeless refugee imaginable. And when the spiritual implications are understood, it’s hard to blame anyone for wanting to distance themselves from anyone or anything that is associated with Laodicea.
From the time Ellen and James White first applied the Laodicean message to Seventh-day Adventists in 1856, the response of members has been either to make personal application of its counsel, deny that it has any particular application to the church today, or pull away from such a spiritually destitute group and attempt to find or form one with more positive traits. Let’s review the facts about Laodicea.
Fact No. 1: Laodicea represents a period of time in the history of the church.
“The names of the seven churches,” Ellen White writes, “are symbolic of the church in different periods of the Christian era. . . . while the symbols used reveal the condition of the church at different periods in the history of the world” (Acts of the Apostles, p. 585). Laodicea is the last of the seven. It began in 1844 and will end with the Second Coming.
Why did Jesus choose the church in the city of Laodicea to represent the last church? He did so because the term itself means “the judging of the people.” That should make our mouths drop open. The name is itself a prophecy given two thousand years ago, describing the church that would proclaim the judgment-hour message of Revelation 14:6, 7! The time period assigned to Laodicea is beyond question.
Fact No. 2: Laodicea represents the spiritual condition of the church in that time period.
Jesus’ choice of Laodicea to represent the church today was no accident. Laodiceans were well-to-do, but Jesus calls them poor. Adventists may be inclined to take pride in the great treasure of truth they possess, or even the broad extent of their presence in the world--their hospitals, schools, publishing houses, churches, etc.
The original Laodiceans were proud of their rich black robes, but Jesus says they are naked. It’s possible that some Adventists can find themselves clothed in the black garments of pride and self-righteousness.
Laodiceans produced a salve to treat eye disease; Jesus says they are still blind. With all their understanding of Bible truth, last-day Laodiceans can still be blind to their own spiritual condition.
Fact No. 3: The message to Laodicea includes a cure for their spiritual condition.
“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” (Rev. 3:18). Buy the gold of faith and love for your spiritual poverty. Purchase the white raiment of Christ’s righteousness for your nakedness, and the eye salve of the Holy Spirit for your blindness.
It is a message that corrects, but it is also a message that gives hope. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (Rev. 3:18). “This message must be borne to a lukewarm church by God’s servants. It must arouse His people from their security and dangerous deception in regard to their real standing before God. This testimony, if received, will arouse to action and lead to self-abasement and confession of sins” (Testimonies to the Church, vol. 3, p. 259).
“The Lord is merciful. He does not chastise His people because He hates them, but because He hates the sins they are committing” (The Upward Look, p. 240, italics supplied). Laodicea, praise God, is that church which, “enfeebled and defective, needing to be reproved, warned, and counseled, is the only object upon earth upon which Christ bestows His supreme regard.” (Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 49, 50).
Fact No. 4: Laodicea is not Babylon or a part of Babylon.
Some find it hard to understand how a church that is so bad it makes Jesus want to vomit can be any different from fallen Babylon. While it is true that individual Laodiceans may continue in a backslidden state until the close of probation, and in heart belong to Babylon, it cannot be said that they—Laodicea and Babylon—are one and the same. Laodicea is loved by Jesus; “Babylon . . . is fallen . . . and become the dwelling place of demons” (Rev. 98:2).
I suggest that God’s people today face two challenges: The first is to fully come out of Babylon; the second is to learn to love and work for both Laodicea and Babylon from within Laodicea. Note this: “Jesus is coming in, to give the individual members of the church the richest blessings, if they will open the door to Him. He does not once call them Babylon, nor ask them to come out, but He says, ‘As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten’” (Manuscript Releases, vol. 1, p. 301). Our great need is to open the door and let Jesus come in!
We live in a time never faced by any generation in exactly the same way since the Great Flood. We face the close of probation. We face the final sifting and shaking of the church. And when we get to that point in time, there will be but two groups, the hot and the cold. The lukewarm will have become excited and involved in winning others; the cold and uncommitted will have drifted into Babylon.
I join my friend I mentioned at the beginning; I, too, am glad to be a part of Laodicea. My desire is to open the door and let Jesus come in so we can enjoy sweet fellowship together. I choose to add to the light of Laodicea’s lamp, work for the uplifting and reformation of God’s last-day church, and do my part to warn the world of what and Who is coming.
Is that your choice, too?
Lee Roy Holmes, retired Seventh-day Adventist Pastor, College Place, WA