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Christ's Greatness in the Epistle to Laodicea - Part 1

Alfred E. Bouter

Christ's Greatness in the Epistle to Laodicea

The book of Revelation is part of the apostle John's ministry. One of the features which characterises his written ministry is the way he presents Christ's personal greatness1. In a unique way our Lord's surpassing glories are described in John's Gospel, putting even the great men of God in the shade. At the same time John effectively sets aside the enemy's substitutes and man's alternatives. This disciple and apostle is pictured in his Gospel as the disciple whom Jesus loved2. He has an intimate knowledge of the greatness of the Person, who is the Eternal and unique Son of God, the Son of the Father and the Eternal Life. John's special commission is to unveil3 to believers this greatness and glory of Christ. He does so against the background of a world-system in which the Lord Jesus has been and still is rejected. Do we realise that this "outcast" who was despised and rejected by men, will be reintroduced into the same universe and every knee will bow before Him? (John 1: 10-12; Isa. 53: 1ff; Heb. 1: 6; Phil. 2: 10f).

1In a sense this is the purpose of all the New Testament writers. Think of Hebrews (I believe written by Paul), which is a presentation of Christ's present greatness in heaven. This letter was written to the Hebrew Christians at a time when the temple services were still going on in Jerusalem. Peter speaks about the magnificence of the glory of God, and in chapter 1 of his Second Epistle he looks back to the transfiguration on the mount, which refers in a special way to Christ's millennial reign. We also find this greatness in Luke 1: 32, "He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David." This reference is indicative of Luke's burden to present the glory of God displayed in a man, who represents a new order of mankind. Think too of Matthew who presents the great King coming to His people. But John's ministry describes the personal glories of Christ, the unique Son of the Father.

2 John was privileged to rest in His bosom while here on earth. He was the disciple who was most intimately acquainted with our Lord, and he was the one who followed Him quietly (John 21: 20-"the disciple whom Jesus loved"). He was also the one of whom the Lord said: "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" Is it not appropriate that this disciple would see the Lord in all His greatness? On the one hand as future Judge and King, and on the other as the One who walks presently among the candlesticks?

The book of Revelation gives a kind of framework of all Biblical prophecies, in order to help us understand the meaning and order of these prophetic writings. Its main purpose, however, is to show how our Lord Jesus will manifest His glory through and in the events described. It is on this account we read of a threefold blessing at the beginning and six more blessings further on in this book of judgments. How blessed it is to be occupied with such a glorious Person! Consider Him in His greatness as Judge, King, Priest, but also as the Executor of God's judgment (Rev. 1). It is the Same who will be seated on the great white throne (Rev. 20), the One who is the Alpha and Omega, the Eternal I Am. He is the great Lover of our souls, our Bridegroom (Rev. 19 and 22). His voice thrills the hearts of those who read this book and who know Him as their Creator-Redeemer (Rev. 4 and 5).

It is the Holy Spirit's ministry to draw our attention to Christ, and to present Him in manifold ways and qualities (John 15: 26). No wonder that the book of Revelation starts with a doxology the moment He is mentioned (Rev. l: 5). John responds in the only right way: "And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead" (Rev. 1: 17f). In other words there is no room left for the flesh, or for the glory of man. Through this "death" experience, John was strengthened and instructed by his beloved Master (Rev. 1: 19). He was made fit to communicate to us the glories of our Lord.

The purpose of the seven letters and a survey of the history of the church

In writing about Revelation 3 it is not my intention to dwell primarily on the teaching or different interpretations of this great book; others have done this. From the very beginning of the history of the church there were deviations and remedies have been given by God's grace (Acts 20: 32). It is important to see that John's ministry is characterised by what is essential, in order to preserve believers in the knowledge and enjoyment of God's blessings. He presents to his readers things that remain till the end and so gives strength to the overcomer. In a word, his ministry brings back to first love! The church as a professing body has lost this first love (Rev. 2: 4). More than that, it has abandoned and forsaken it. What does this mean? It does not refer to the love we may have had for the Lord at the time of our conversion. First love rather means a moral condition where Christ is all, being everything concerning any matter that may occupy the believer. Such a condition, of course, would suggest at the same time a healthy spiritual maturity. As far as the public profession was concerned this condition had been abandoned, as Paul had already warned in his message to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20: 29ff).

3 The Greek word for "Revelation" may be translated "unveiling." In this book it is the Lord Himself who unveils what is hidden.

Nevertheless, whenever there is failure in the public, collective testimony, we find that the individual believer is addressed in John's writings. It is in order to restore the believer to first love and to keep him in this condition and relationship till the very end, that is, until the rapture. The unfolding of Christ's glory throughout this book, before the coming of the Lord in public display, has a moral result. It prepares the church, the true bride, to be ready for the Bridegroom. Having been instructed by the letters from the Lord sent through John, and by the Holy Spirit throughout this book, she is finally ready for the coming of the Beloved. The Spirit and the bride say, "Come" (Rev. 22: 17). This is the only word the bride speaks publicly. It is an expression of desire, of longing, of love, of amazement and of anxious waiting.

The order of events in the history of the church may be summarised as follows:

In Ephesus the church as a whole left her first love, historically at the end of the first century.

Because of this the Lord allowed persecution; Satan acting as a roaring lion (1 Peter 5: 8) in the second and third centuries (Smyrna).

Despite and perhaps because of the many faithful martyrs, the church was then attacked by Satan as an angel of light. The result was that the church placed herself under the protection of the world system and the Roman Emperor became the head of the professing church. This development is presented in the letter to Pergamos, which corresponds historically with the events in the fourth century and later.

This link with the world gradually gave rise to the desire in the church to rule over the world. The ambition came to fruition in Thyatira and reached its zenith in the 12th century. There was the absolute authority of the papal system and moral corruption of the very worst kind.

A remnant was led out of this degenerate system in the days of the Reformation in the 16th century. However, the letter to Sardis describes the condition approximately 100 years after the Reformation when a general state of spiritual death characterised the national Protestant churches.

Then, in sovereign grace, the Lord raised up a remnant seen in Philadelphia. This was a glowing revival and a testimony for Himself, although with little strength because of man's failure. There was a witness nevertheless, distinguished by faithfulness to His Name and to the Word of God (19th century).

Soon we come to the last phase in this development. The Lord, who is everything to Philadelphia (being a collective restoration to first love), has to leave Laodicea, and finds Himself outside, knocking at the door.

Please note carefully that in suggesting this outline I am not limiting the teaching of Scripture to this flow of events. Each letter has a message for every believer at any time in the history of the church. Another point to underline is the fact that these local assemblies coexisted at the time John wrote, with the variety of features described. Since then these local assemblies have all disappeared.

It searches but also encourages us to notice the patience of our Lord, who gently knocks at the door. He does not try to force Himself inside. He does not cry out or shout (Matt. 12: 19) but shows patience, grace, gentleness, faithfulness and care; in other words, real love. It is striking to find that the Lord is placed outside. How solemn that this happened in Philadelphia where He used to be everything but where our own resources, solutions or inventions have gradually replaced Him!4

The Lord wants to challenge our hearts and consciences and restore us to first love, in order that practically He may be everything to us. As subject to God's ways we will all be brought to acknowledge Christ's greatness (compare Job 42). He is looking for a response from willing hearts to His gentle knocking, even though the answer may be weak.

4 Laodicea represents what Philadelphia becomes through the letting slip those Philadelphian features which the Lord commends-Ed.

An illustration from the book of Malachi

It might be helpful for readers who are familiar with the last book of the Old Testament, to trace a parallel between Malachi and the Lord's message to Laodicea. The priests in Jerusalem, at the time of the last prophet, represented a remnant which found itself in the right position. They were in the city of Jerusalem, serving in God's temple, but they were not in the right condition. Malachi's burden is to present the greatness of the Lord to His people (Mal. 1: 5, 11, 14; Mal. 4: 2). I hope to develop some of these points in the course of our study.

Thus to Laodicea, the New Testament's counterpart to Malachi's people, the Lord's greatness is shown in the many details we hope to consider. As was the case in Malachi's day, the Lord would see among them an unnoticed remnant which feared God. Impressed by His greatness and in true fellowship with Him and with one another, they would speak often one to another, esteeming His Name. Is this not like the teaching of 1 John 1, which can be put into practice whatever the situation in the Christian profession may be?

Christ's Greatness in the Epistle to Laodicea (2)

"These things says the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God" (Rev. 3: 14).

Who is this Amen who is at the same time witness and beginning? He is the most wonderful Person in the universe and is speaking to His church. In these verses written to Laodicea we see the Lord in various relationships, for example:

1. As the Beloved addressing the objects of His love;

2. As the Son of the Father speaking to God's family;

3. As the Lord giving direction to His servants;

4. As the Teacher instructing His disciples.

Why does He present Himself in these ways? Is it not that, because of these unique features, He is the only One who qualifies to be the true Judge? His searching eyes are examining the whole spectrum of the Christian testimony! Does He not see that, despite high pretensions, His church has really forsaken the truth, or even worse, abandoned Himself? In His great love He wants to draw the attention of the individual believer to Himself, even when the overall picture is quite hopeless. "Laodicea" means something like: "people's rights," or "the people speak or decide;" in other words: democracy. This spirit lures man into placing his "rights" and personal "ideas" above the rights, words and verdicts of the Lord Jesus, who is God Himself, the Amen, blessed for ever.

We must realise that He is "the Amen." This does not merely mean "may it be so," as when a prayer or a discourse is concluded. No, it really means that when the Lord has spoken it is so. There is no shadow of a doubt left. When He has decided something, it is true and it stands. Even though man may seek to change God's purposes, He will see them through. Finally, the Name "Amen" also suggests a link with the concluding phase of the history of the church. Furthermore, the "Amen" is intimately connected with the truth of God. In the Hebrew this is quite clear, as Isaiah 65: 16 shows, the God of truth being the God of Amen. The word/Name Amen might be linked as well with another Hebrew word which has the same letters (a.m.n.) and which means "artificer" or "nursling," as in Proverbs 8: 30. Thus Mordecai brought up (nourished-same word) Hadassah (Es. 2: 7). This is an interesting thought because it fits in with what Christ is as the Chief Executive of God's creation, who will bring things to pass. Therefore in the four characteristics suggested earlier, He uses these qualities to nurture (as in nursling) and build up His church.

In the text of the New Testament and especially in John's writings, we find many times "verily, verily" or "amen, amen." Using those words, our Lord confirms the truth of His remarks. A helpful reference is 2 Corinthians 1: 20, read together with the notes in the Darby version. Thus Christ as the great Amen is the embodiment, the manifestation and confirmation of God's truth. Is He not the Amen who reveals what He is in Himself1: "I am... the truth?" (John 14: 6). He declares the truth and maintains it to God's glory, even today when the truth has been (or is being) given up. How great He is!

According to 1 Timothy 3: 15 the church has the great privilege and responsibility of being the pillar of the truth. This means that God considers her to be the public supporter and witness of the truth. However, she is never supposed to usurp a position in which she would decide about the truth. Nevertheless, this is what has happened: the church has placed herself above the truth, to sit in judgment upon the Word of God, instead of being ruled, lead and judged by it. Today the Lord Jesus in the glory is the perfect expression of God's truth (Col 2: 9). This He was here on earth (John 8: 29), when the Fulness of the Godhead dwelt in Him (Col. 1: 19). As He was on earth, and is now in heaven, He speaks from the glory, as the perfect Communicator of God's truth. In both capacities (the Word incarnate as well as the glorified and exalted Son of man) He, the great Amen, addresses Himself to Laodicea. Do we listen when He speaks? Do we say amen to the "Amen?"

Summary on the great Amen

All that God is, is found and expressed in Him who is the glory of God (See Hebrews, which explains the Old Testament in this respect, and Ephesians which links God's purposes with Him.

1Already in the Old Testament we find that the Angel of Jehovah, God's representative (messenger), is Jehovah Himself.

Nothing can be added, as Colossians shows-we are complete in Him; Col. 2: 9). Our unity and union with Him is the secret of this dispensation. Furthermore, in the Amen there is stability. All things change, but in Him there is what is absolute and solid, and what He says is sure and reliable. Therefore He is also the embodiment of the truth (2 Cor. 1: 20) and the confirmation of the truth (as was the case when He was on earth: John 14: 6). In 1 John 1: 2 we meet Him as the word of life: the expression and communication of the truth in view of its present enjoyment. It would be edifying to study the link between the Amen and the Logos.

Some examples of verses with amen lead to the conclusion that the word amen is used:

to accept a task; conform to the will of God (1 Kings 1: 36; Neh. 8: 6);

to confirm the personal application of a divine threat or curse (Num. 5: 22; Deut. 27: 15ff);

to attest the praise of God in response to a doxology (Ps. 41: 13; 1 Chron. 16: 36);

to express agreement, to confirm a vow (Neh. 5: 13; Jer. 11: 5);

to respond in worship (at the end of 14 doxologies in the New Testament epistles);

as a concluding wish, a claim that binds (Jer. 28: 6).

Being the Amen (the truth, John 14: 6), our blessed Lord revealed God's thoughts. 25 times in John's Gospel statements are introduced by saying "verily, verily" or "amen, amen." John 8 confirms that He is what He declares and He declares what He is! Thus Christ is also the true witness of the truth and martyr (same word), because of the present condition of the world system. Therefore He is at the same time our perfect example and model.

In Revelation 1: 7 the word amen follows closely the word yes. Thus we have seen God's yes in 2 Corinthians 1: 20, followed by an amen. Both are expressed in Christ and Paul could add his own yes and amen "for glory to God." Today we listen to the Lord's voice saying "Yea (yes), I come quickly." Do we answer "Amen; come, Lord Jesus"?

Christ's Greatness in the Epistle to Laodicea (2)

(2) "The faithful and true witness"

The way the Lord presents Himself to John in Revelation 1 encompasses His different attributes and glories as Priest, King and Judge, referred to again in the seven epistles of chapters 2 and 3. But in the last two letters, especially in verses 7 and 14, we find several new elements. This shows that despite all the public failure, it pleases the Lord near the end of the history of the church here on earth to present Himself to His people in a special way. He desires to draw their attention to Himself and to His own character.

If we had visited Laodicea we might have been struck by the material prosperity apparent in the magnificent and highly organised church services. Perhaps there were eloquent speakers, wonderful seminars and big audiences-in short, something for everyone. However, what was essential was missing. The Lord was outside of it all and they didn't even know it! Should the church not be in the scene where her Beloved is rejected, for the delight and satisfaction of her Bridegroom and Master, and under the approval of God's eye?

When the church here on earth has failed to be a faithful and true witness, the Lord Himself draws the attention of the church to its unfaithfulness. The Lord Jesus is the true Master of the house and He likes to delegate many tasks to His disciples. When they follow His instructions the servants have fellowship with Him in these various forms of service. Thinking of faithful witnesses, the Greek word can be translated "martyrs" as well. Many saints come to mind: men like Stephen (Acts 7), Paul (Acts 20), Timothy and the long list in Romans 16. However, even in their days there were believers who forsook the true veterans of God's testimony. There is no difference today. But when these believers fail, attention is drawn to the Lord. He will never compromise, whereas the church is guilty of this. He will never negotiate truth, neither be misled by outward appearance (compare 1 Sam. 16). He was always ready to pay the price for His faithfulness.

The need for reality

God wants to see truth in the inward parts (Ps. 51: 6), as well as reality in our words and actions. This was no longer the case in the assembly at Laodicea in John's days and neither is it in our days. The Lord is the true Witness. We could connect this also with what we saw in regard to His Name "Amen." God is looking for truth in His children, not only on Lord's day, but in all the different areas of our lives. Why? In order that they may be His representatives in this world, as was the case with the Lord Jesus when He was walking here. This truth should also come out in our relationships and activities within the context of God's assembly. It would lead too far away from this study to go into the many passages which speak of this point (of truthfulness, reality, faithfulness). Let us conclude for now that despite the failure in the public testimony as it has been entrusted to the hands of men, the Lord Jesus always maintains what is needed for the glory of God. Again, how great He is!

Faithful and true

The first qualification, "faithful" (connected in the Greek with the word faith1 or belief, and also with obedience), reminds us that the Lord is a reliable witness. He exercises His present function as Witness in true dependence upon and in communion with God. Did He not do this also in His walk and in the race of faith on this earth? (Heb. 12: 1-3). Is it not because of a lack of faith and of dependence that the church has failed?

The other qualification, "true," emphasizes His personal integrity as well as His loyalty to the truth of God, as Romans 15: 8 explains in such a marvelous way. Psalm 45: 7 confirms that He did it because of His love for God's rights: there we find His motive. Thus our Lord Jesus was prepared to become the true Bondman down here for the truth of God (Phil. 2). Another passage which comes to mind is Luke 22: 24-27. The church on earth has failed but our Lord in heaven remains a true Servant. He maintains the glory of God in testimony in His people here on earth, as He did this during His walk through this world. This is what we find in the epistle to Laodicea.

1It is striking to see that Moses said of his generation that they lacked faithfulness, Deut. 32: 20; the word amen (see above) is used in this context!

It is remarkable to see how the New Testament writers were prepared to take the place of bondservants of God and of Christ. This character of bond-service is entirely lost in Laodicea. They want to rule instead of serving (compare 1 Cor. 4: 8). How appropriate then to be brought back to the true Bondservant who presents Himself in all His glories to attract our hearts and to challenge our consciences. Are we willing to take the place of a bondman as well?

The Lord's and God's faithfulness2

2 About 600 verses in the New Testament contain a noun or a verb linked with our word faith or believe. Such features in God should be seen in the believer today. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for truth is often translated with faithful(-ness).

The New Testament puts special emphasis on the faithfulness of God. In view of the needs of God's people in the wilderness, 1 Corinthians 1: 9 links the present fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord with the faithful God who called us. Against the background of a failing and unfaithful people our attention is drawn to the One who controls all circumstances and leads us through trials (1 Cor. 10: 13). During the riot at Ephesus Paul experienced God's compassions and after this he could again write to the Corinthians about God's faithfulness (2 Corinthians 1: 18; "true" in King James Translation). Thus we could trace God's faithfulness through the New Testament: He is faithful (Heb. 10: 23; Heb. 11: 11) and abides faithful (2 Tim. 2: 13).

It is especially to be noticed that our Lord in His walk on this earth was characterised by faithfulness. Revelation 1: 5 speaks of Him as "the faithful witness," referring to His walk on earth, whereas at present He is "the firstborn from the dead," and in a soon coming day he will be seen as "the prince of the kings of the earth."3

3 In Revelation very often things are composites of three, e.g.: past, present, future; features of the Divine Trinity; glories of the Lord in three categories.

Today in the glory (2 Tim. 2: 13) and as presenting Himself to John and to us (Rev. 3: 14), He is faithful. Not only a faithful High Priest (Heb. 2: 17), or Servant (Heb. 3: 5; 8: 1f), or Advocate (1 John 1: 9; 1 John 2: 1f), but also as this great Witness today (Rev. 3: 14), in contrast to the condition of the Christian profession. Of course, His people on earth should be faithful, as Timothy was (1 Cor. 4: 17), and so many others have been through the grace of God. The suffering church in Smyrna is challenged to be faithful (Rev. 2: 10). In the deviation in Pergamos, Antipas remained faithful (Rev. 2: 11). In the future, when appearing to this world, the Lord will be seen as the Faithful and True (Rev. 19: 11). What a privilege then for believers today to follow Him in faithfulness!4

4 See also the seven references about the faithful in the book of Proverbs: Prov. 11: 13; Prov. 13: 17; Prov. 14: 15; Prov. 20: 6; Prov. 25: 13; Prov. 27: 6; Prov. 28: 20.

Christ's Greatness in the Epistle to Laodicea (2)

(3) "The beginning of the creation of God" (Rev. 3: 14)

It has intrigued me many times why the apostle Paul in his epistle to the Colossians refers so often to Laodicea. In order to find the answer would it not help if we understand the character of this letter written to the saints at Colosse? It is a declaration of the greatness and the pre-eminence of Christ, who is the Eternal Son on the one hand and the Firstborn on the other. His greatness is presented and defended in this epistle but is also to be demonstrated in the lives of the believers. The Colossians were in danger of practically giving up the Head because of the influence of gnostic teachings. They promoted so-called higher or deeper knowledge, or 'super-knowledge' we would say today. But in reality they were adding to Christ and thus taking away, diminishing, if not entirely robbing Him of His glories. Laodicea probably found itself in a similar situation. Paul presents Christ's greatness to the Colossians as the answer to their needs and as the remedy to the enemy's attacks. Therefore in Laodicea the Lord Jesus takes upon Himself the task of the Witness because the assembly had utterly failed to be faithful. He also presents Himself as "the Beginning of the creation of God." In introducing Himself in this capacity to them, they (or at least some of them) would be restored to first love. They would realise what Christ actually means to God and to the believer.

Is it not the purpose of Paul's writings to show that Christ is the Wisdom of God, that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Him? In a similar way, though even more pronounced, the apostle John does this in his writings. To counter the same errors and false teachings John goes back to Him who was in the beginning and to that which was from the beginning. In other words He introduces the One who is all-sufficient, who was and who is and who will be, the Same. This remedy is applied by the Lord Himself in Revelation 3. He is no longer presented in His greatness by His apostles: He presents Himself in all His greatness to the believers in Laodicea, and we may add to us and to the believers in our days. What an impact it would have if we were impressed by the greatness of the Person who speaks to us! Could there be someone greater than the "Beginning of the creation of God?"

Inside or outside

Could there be somebody who would be able to replace Him? In Laodicea they were (are) so pleased with themselves that they did (do) not even think of the Lord! They did (do) not even realise that He was (is) no longer among them, that He was (is) "outside!" Do we see Him as the Author, the Originator, the Starting point of God's ways; the Beginning and therefore the Object and Goal of God's counsels? Do we worship Him as being the Head of the new creation, who is the Head also of God's family? He is our life, the hope of glory, and in Him all God's treasures of wisdom are to be found. In Him the glories of the new creation are and will be displayed for ever and ever. He will be the expression of God's glory in an undiminished way for eternity. He will fill the universe with His glory (Eph. 4: 10) because He is all and in all (Col. 3: 11)! This is true reality. This is "My Lord and my God" (John 20: 28). Is there anybody left to compete with Him? Does He have any rivals? However, the enemy always tries to rob Him of His glory, or put Him in the shade of something else. Although our blessed Lord can never lose His inherent glory, He can lose it as far as our testimony for Him is concerned. Therefore let us watch and be vigilant.

Once more "The beginning of the creation of God"

This does not mean at all that He was created as the first and highest of God's creatures. Nor that He is an emanation of the Godhead. No! Colossians 1: 16 clearly shows that all things in relation to the first creation are through Him, made in the power of His Person and also for His own glory. Please compare this with John 1: 3, 10; Hebrews 1: 2 and Revelation 4: 11. The passage in Proverbs 8 which speaks about God's wisdom, cannot be used to suggest Wisdom is God's work in creation. On the contrary, it was always there in God Himself, from the beginning (Prov. 8: 23). As in Colossians 1, this passage brings out Christ's greatness as the (Eternal) Wisdom of God, as He is also the Eternal Word and the Eternal Son.

1 See further the comments on Christ as Chief on the next page.

Furthermore, concerning the new creation, the Word of God confirms the greatness of Christ as the Creator and therefore the Head or Beginning of the new creation. He is its Author, Originator, Chief Executive, Firstborn and Centre. Just commenting on the expression "the Firstborn," I suggest this to be a title of honour. The firstborn in Scripture speaks of special privileges and rights and eminence in position. "The Firstborn" is also an indication of Him who, by His death and resurrection, has introduced the believers into this new realm of the new creation. See further Colossians 1: 18; Colossians 1: 13; Colossians 2: 10. Can you find a greater Person than the One who could do this?

The new creation

Passages like 2 Corinthians 5: 17; Galatians 6: 15; Ephesians 2: 10; James 1: 18; Revelation 21: 1, 5-6; Revelation 22: 13 and others are very helpful to see more of His greatness with respect to the new creation. In this context I underline especially 2 Corinthians 5: 17 (new associations), Galatians 6: 15 (a new rule), Ephesians 2 and 4 (a new morality) and Colossians 3 (a new system of knowledge). The same Scriptures show the practical implications with regard to our position as Christians before God and men. Meditation upon these passages will lead us to worship Him who is the Beginning, Object, Centre and Head of God's new creation. Considering His ways (Rom. 11) and His works, whether in creation, in redemption, or in judgment, will lead to worship and so it will be in heaven. How great He is!

Christ as Chief

The three titles the Lord uses in Revelation 3: 14 are intimately linked together. Our Lord is God blessed forever and therefore also the Amen. But at the same time the Amen is seen in Him as Man who is in obedient response to the divine Amen. Our Lord Jesus came to do God's will: this was His Amen. This implied for Him, as we have seen, suffering and rejection. Nevertheless He was the Faithful and True witness and still is today. The third expression (beginning, ruler or chief) is derived from a verb that means to rule or to begin. The noun indicates primacy in time (beginning) and/or in rank (ruler, chief). In these titles dimensions of past, present and future are always present, because He is the Alpha and the Omega.

The gnostic teachings in Colosse (and perhaps in neighbouring Laodicea) caused Paul to emphasize especially Christ's greatness.2 Firstly with regard to the first creation (Col. 1: 15-17) and secondly in connection with the new creation, on the basis of His death and resurrection (Col. 1: 18). John uses the same expression in John 1: 1f (beginning) with regard to the Word, as he uses to refer to Christ as the Head of the new creation in Revelation 3: 14. Finally there is another Greek word, derived from the same root as the Name Chief or Beginning, that conveys the idea of ruler and dominion. This word occurs in Acts 3: 15; Acts 5: 31; Hebrews 2: 10 and Hebrews 12: 2, where we meet our risen and glorified Lord as the great Author, Leader and Prince of life, salvation and faith.

2 Notice in Col. 1: 18 also three titles: Head, Beginning, Firstborn.

Christ's Greatness in the Epistle to Laodicea

"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot" (Rev. 3: 15)

The Lord Jesus is the beginning (Chief) of the new creation and believers today belong to that creation. God desires in and by them to have a testimony concerning His coming new world, in the very world where things are organised for the glory of man and satan. The question therefore arises whether we are really representing God's new creation, or promoting self and things that belong to the old creation, connected with failure and breakdown?

The Lord Jesus is not only the Head of God's creation, being God Himself, but He also speaks as the perfect Judge. He is omniscient (Rom. 9: 5) and knows everything about us, even the number of the hairs of our head. He is walking among the lampstands or candlesticks (Rev. 1-3). Is He not also that true light which the lampstands are supposed to give? He searches all in order to see how faithfully and effectively they are acquitting themselves of their tasks. Here He pronounces a terrible and condemning verdict. When we follow the course of church history in the seven epistles in Revelation 2 and 3, we understand that with Laodicea we have come to the very end of God's present testimony on earth. Although in our day Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea continue to exist contemporaneously, historically, as to the point in time when they started, they followed one after another. In Philadelphia there was a collective testimony to the blessedness of the Lord Jesus. However, in Laodicea we see what followed this. Instead of true satisfaction with the wonderful Christ, those bearing His Name become more and more satisfied with themselves. The apostle Paul describes this process in the beginning of 2 Timothy 3. A special feature he mentions there is that people will be lovers of self, more than lovers of God.1 Replacing zeal for the Beloved who is all, the Laodiceans lost their zeal for Him and became lukewarm and indifferent to the Bridegroom. What is our attitude to Him?

1 It is remarkable that the concept of self-love, self-realisation, etc,. has been developed in our generation.

"I would thou wert cold or hot"

Perhaps in days past the Lord had used meetings for edification through the Word to address this issue, but to no avail (1 Cor. 14: 3). He had also sent His labourers,2 or other servants. If John's ministry has no effect on believers then they have reached a terrible condition. The Lord would rather see the believers in Laodicea like cold water, which is refreshing, or like hot water, which was used for medicinal purposes. In both cases others would benefit and the Lord would be pleased as well. Alas, this was not so in the assembly in Laodicea.

"So then because thou art lukewarm"

As the Beloved the Lord Jesus was (and is today) waiting for a response, but in Laodicea He doesn't find any. Perhaps they bring sacrifices of praise and sing spiritual songs or wonderful hymns, possibly with great emphasis on instrumental music and outward appeal, but they are like hollow forms. There is nothing that satisfies His longing heart. The Lord compares Himself here with somebody who would drink of the famous stream of healing waters in the area of Laodicea, but He has to spue it out.3

A parallel thought is found in the Old Testament when the Israelites had corrupted themselves with idolatry. The land spued them out, as it had done the Canaanites before them. There was no fruit for God, although He had been waiting for so long (Lev. 18: 28; 20: 22; compare also Job 20: 15b). We may try to cover-up the real situation with all kinds of things but we cannot deceive the Lord (Gal. 6: 7).

Because of the great emphasis on self-pleasing, self-advancement (see later), and pleasing one another, as the Pharisees used to do (John 12: 43), there was a lack of zeal in Laodicea, as well as a tendency to compromise. This condition caused the Lord to say:

2 I believe John, before his exile on Patmos, used to visit the assemblies around Ephesus when he stayed there.

3 A six mile long aqueduct brought Laodicea its supply of water from the south; the water came either from hot springs and was cooled to lukewarm or came from a cooler source and warmed up in the aqueduct on the way.

"I will spue thee out of My mouth"

The Lord's message to Laodicea is urgent: I am about to spue you out. "I will" means that it is going to happen quickly and surely.

The Lord Jesus speaks as the great Lover who does not find anything in Laodicea that can satisfy Him. Could we not conclude from this:

(1) that in Laodicea there were outward forms linked with Christianity but no real love for the Lord and

(2) therefore He gives them up, because there is no evidence that any remedy will work.

Thus our Lord also speaks as the Judge and how solemn this is! The book of Revelation presents Him as the Judge (Rev. 1), even over the whole universe (Rev. 20) but first of all over the house of God (Rev. 1-3; cp. 1 Peter 4: 17). Furthermore He speaks as a Physician.4 The condition in Laodicea is acute and the patient is about to die. The words "I will" (meaning "I am about to") may also be indicative of His soon coming and imply a last warning.

4 God acts as a Physician with regard to the sinner in Romans 3: 19f, and so does the Lord here with this assembly.

We will see more details about the Lord's qualities and the remedy He puts forward, but let us pause here for a moment. Even when there was apparently no response to the Lord, He presents Himself in His greatness (as Lover, Physician, Judge, etc.). Does this not suggest that the Lord was and is still waiting for a response? He will get it from a remnant, be it ever so small. The idea of a remnant is found many times in Scripture. Where the whole people of God fail, God continues in His sovereign grace with a remnant. This is true for Israel (e.g. Isa. 6: 8-13; Isa. 10: 21; Isa. 11: 11; Haggai 1: 12; Rom. 9-11) and it is true for the church. A remnant is not merely what is leftover, but represents what the whole people should have been and constitutes a link with what God gave originally.

Finally, I refer to Psalm 19: 4-6. I suggest that the sun is a type of our Lord Jesus (cp. Mal. 4: 2). In contrast to the lack of heat in the assembly at Laodicea the Lord Himself keeps His warmth and zeal. He is now glorified in heaven (God has placed Him there), and we may contemplate Him there in all His splendour (cp. the whole circuit the sun makes, Ps. 19: 5ff). He really wants us to do just that, in order that we may receive light and warmth and be(come) zealous. A Christian with real love for the Lord "up there" in the glory, is a Christian with spiritual energy "down here." Furthermore, nothing is hidden from His searching eyes, not even in Laodicea with its nice cover-ups. The Lord does not allow any compromise either. If there is one lesson to learn from this verse (Rev. 3: 16) it is this: the Lord will not allow us to be His witnesses on our own terms; we have to be with Him on His terms.

My mouth

What a contrast the Lord's mouth presents when compared with what the Laodiceans produced! From His mouth flow all sorts of blessings, for "The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life" (Prov. 10: 11). He cannot allow that we offer Him something that is not in agreement with that which comes from His mouth.

As a dependent Man He relied on God's mouth, the Giver and Sustainer of life (Matt. 4: 4; Luke 4: 4). In His earthly ministry the Lord opened His mouth to teach and bless (Matt. 5: 2ff). And as the Revealer of secrets He opened His mouth as foretold by the prophet (Matt. 13: 35). Compare also the reference to Levi's mouth in Malachi 2: 6ff as a type of Christ. In Luke 4: 22 words of grace proceeded out of His mouth, revealing God in grace. Presently our Lord is crowned with glory and honour, and Ananias confirmed to Paul that he had been chosen to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice out of His mouth (Acts 22: 14). How Paul drank in His voice and then dispensed from what he had received! In this he is a model for us, following at the same time the footsteps of the great Model.

However, from the same mouth proceeds judgment. He will execute Antichrist with the breath of His mouth (2 Thess. 2: 8). In Revelation 1: 16 John has a vision of the Lord as Judge and out of His mouth proceeds a sharp two-edged sword (v. 16). The Lord uses this first in relation to His church, in moral power against the opponents (Rev. 2: 16), but also to smite the nations (Rev. 19: 15). How it behoves us to be deeply impressed by His authority, in submitting ourselves to His claims. The introduction of Christ, at the very beginning of the book of Revelation, underlines the ongoing activities of the Holy Spirit on this earth, till the end of the dispensation, namely to glorify Christ (John 16: 14).

"Because thou sayest" (Rev. 3: 17)

In contrast to the mouth of our blessed Lord we find in verse 17 what was proceeding out of the mouths of the Laodiceans. The assembly speaks about itself, not about Christ. What a contrast with what the Lord says in Revelation 3: 10 concerning Philadelphia: "thou hast kept the word of My patience..." The assembly in Philadelphia was characterised by faithfulness and loyalty to Christ, although He is presently absent from this scene. The Lord could say of them that they have "kept My word" and have "not denied my name" (Rev. 3: 8). This appreciation of His Person and of His Word marked them and singled them out. Philadelphia appreciated Christ, did not have room but for Christ, and gave attention only to Christ.

In Laodicea this condition has totally changed. There is appreciation, room and attention for everything but Christ. This is the end of the course begun in Revelation 2: 4, when first love was forsaken. Is this not illustrated in Israel's history, according to the words spoken by Moses? "Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein: And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage" (Deut. 8: 12-14). Remember Agur's prayer in Proverbs 30: 9: "Lest I be full, and deny Thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain."

The culture in which the assembly of Laodicea was placed had its influence on it, as happens in our days as well. Laodicea was an important centre of trade and communication. Its wealth came partly from the production of a fine quality of famous wool. Laodicea was so wealthy that after the great earthquake of A.D. 17, which destroyed it, they refused help from Rome for the rebuilding of the city. In other words they did not feel the need for help. This is the attitude that prevailed in the assembly as well. "I am rich, and am grown rich, and have need of nothing" (J.N.D. Trans.). All this implies a warning for believers today who live in an affluent society. It also shows that having Philadelphia's principles is not sufficient for us today. As well as holding fast those principles we need to be found in the condition that characterises Philadelphia!


To say something is one thing but to be something is quite another. Sadly, the Christians in Laodicea said much about themselves but they were in God's eyes the very opposite of what they were claiming. This was in stark contrast to the Lord Jesus in His walk on earth and also to how He wants to be displayed in believers down here today (Phil. 2). Could that happen to us today? Paul anticipates such an attitude in Romans 11: 19 and 25. There is the danger of being wise in our own eyes as if all our resources are in our own hands. This would be to despise the lessons of the history and failure of Israel, which are given for our instruction and admonition. It reminds us of Proverbs 13: 7: "There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches."

I repeat the question: Could that happen to us today? I suggest a few key-words to pinpoint some of the things that the Lord touches upon in this verse. Laodicea speaks the language of pretension, which is the very opposite of the language which the Lord used (John 8: 25). This language displays something that may be well hidden, namely pride and arrogance, but which is the cause of much evil (see many verses in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes) and the Lord unmasks such pretension (cp. Rev. 2: 9).

How we need to heed Paul's words, given in a different context in Romans 12: 3, "For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith." Pretentious talk is challenged by the apostle John in 1 John 1: 6-2: 9.

The book of Malachi provides many examples of this religious pretension in the history of the remnant that returned from the Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem. There are many lessons we can learn from this remnant, both in a positive and negative sense, including the stern warnings against an outward form without real appreciation of the things of the Lord.


Here follow a few more key-words which describe what was involved in this departure which so defied the Lord: self-centred, complacent, self-satisfied, self-exalting, self-righteous; claiming and proclaiming one's own greatness. These words mirror what is found in 2 Timothy 3: 1ff and 4: 3ff. In other words these are our days! Should we not ask ourselves whether we are guilty of some of these things and if so confess them to the Lord?

This marked departure from Philadelphia, having riches and everything else except the Lord, is not something that we should take lightly. The Lord when on earth said, "But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation" (Luke 6: 24). This is the portion of the rich Pharisee who said in Luke 18: 12, "I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess." For the historic parallel with Israel I also refer to Zechariah 11: 5, "for I am rich." Is that not the attitude of the unfaithful shepherds of Israel who are challenged by the Lord in Ezekiel 34?


The Lord warned against material riches in Matthew 13: 22 (cp. Mark 4: 19 and Luke 8: 14). "He also that received seed among the thorns, is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful." Compare also Luke 12: 21: "So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." The same kind of attitude can easily be found among Christians, as it was with the Corinthians of whom Paul had to say, "Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you" (1 Cor. 4: 8). What a contrast with Paul himself: "As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things" (2 Cor. 6: 10). And with the Macedonian believers of whom he testified: "How that, in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality" (2 Cor. 8: 2). This joy is the remedy for such a wrong Laodicean attitude. Such joy is found, of course, first of all in the Lord's own example: "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich" (2 Cor. 8: 9).

The Laodicean assembly was marked by materialism. What about us today? Listen again to Paul in 1 Timothy 6: 9: "But they that will (or desire to) be rich, fall into temptation, and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition." And 1 Timothy 6: 17f: "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate." Let us not put our confidence in ourselves or in our self-proclaimed riches, lest we fall under God's judgment: "Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten" (James 5: 2). Are we indifferent to these warnings?

Claims of success

We are living in the days of the "health and wealth gospel" and professing Christians are building false securities. Self-supported and self-sufficient, Laodiceans do not really need the Lord: I "have need of nothing." Today we build our own systems, not only of materialism but also of rationalism or ritualism, fundamentalism or exclusivism, modernism and ecumenicalism. In all those cases we have managed to organise and control things ourselves, and we don't need the Lord (of course, we don't say that). That is why I am always reluctant to consider a set of rules, as if it were possible to set out all God's principles in a simple list. No, when we think we have things quite under control, then we are very much mistaken.


Then we are ignorant of the real situation. The Lord in His compassion and zeal for His assembly continues to speak: "Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." There are five points that the all-seeing Judge brings out against the accused of which, despite high pretensions, they are not even aware. The Lord evaluates the Christians at Laodicea as being (1) wretched, (2) miserable, (3) poor, (4) blind and (5) naked. How would He appraise you and me?

As I mentioned earlier, our Lord also addresses the Laodiceans in His love and in His care, because He continues to be the great Lover as well as the great Physician, for He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2: 13). In His earthly ministry He had said, "They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick" (Matt. 9: 12). Those who (think they) are whole are unaware of their need of a physician; and those who (think they) are righteous do not see their need of the Lord's the gracious intervention.

This ignorance is illustrated in a striking way in Samson's history. When Delilah had seduced him to reveal his secret, he thought that the resources he had used formerly were still available to him. But he was tragically mistaken and the Philistines bound him and put out his eyes as if to mock at his ignorance (Judges 16: 20f). I believe that Samson's early days illustrate the condition of Philadelphia, as described in Revelation 3: 8ff. His decline demonstrates how easily one can "backslide" into a Laodicean condition which is characterised by a false sense of security.1 In a similar way God says of the ten tribes, represented by Ephraim, "Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not; yea, gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not" (Hosea 7: 9). Verse 10 in Hosea 7 speaks about pride and verse 11 that Ephraim is "without understanding" (J. N D. Trans.).

1 Judges 16: 28 shows that, as this happened to Samson, one may return to the condition of Philadelphia.

(1) "wretched"

Some other verses where we find this same word either as a noun, verb or adjective help us to understand its meaning. "Destruction and misery are in their ways" (Rom. 3: 16); "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom. 7: 24). In James 4: 9 we read: "Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness." In James 5: 1 "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you." All that is done only

results in further failure. This is true for man in the flesh and for the born-again believer acting according to the flesh, and indicates that the natural man is under God's impending judgment. In comparing the passages in the Old Testament (Septuagint) where these words are used, I have come to the conclusion that the word wretched indicates a sure and quickly coming judgment.

(2) "miserable"

In 1 Corinthians 15: 19 Paul states: "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." This is the only other time we find the same word in the Greek text and it helps us to understand the passage in Revelation 3. The Lord evaluates the situation and says that, despite the high pretension of needing nothing, the assembly in Laodicea needs God's mercy. And it is the object of the Lord's kindness and mercy! This is not God's mercy and kindness towards the miserable sinner (Rom. 9: 18; Rom. 11: 31; Eph. 2: 4), nor the merciful attitude of our High Priest with regard to the question of our sins (Heb 2: 17).

The word miserable in Revelation 3: 17 underlines the Laodicean's desperate need of alms!2 In their own reckoning they are very rich, and they despise help from others as a consequence, but in reality they are in need of alms themselves. Yet the Lord is still ready to provide help, even for the Laodiceans! How merciful He is (Heb. 4: 16). He supplies the wisdom from above, which is "first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without variance, without hypocrisy." (ASV James 3: 17). And the Lord wants this fruit to be reproduced in the lives of believers, even in Laodicean days (Luke 10: 37). If it is absent, then "judgment will be without mercy to him that has shown no mercy. Mercy glories over judgment" (James 2: 13).

2 There is an intimate link in the Greek between mercy, pitiable and alms.

(3) "poor"

This adjective is derived from a verb meaning to crouch; to fall down as it were like a beggar. Thus it is used for one who obtains his living by begging, as distinguished from one who, though poor, earns his living by daily hard labour. It indicates a condition of great need and of helplessness regarding the need. The Laodiceans were not aware that this was their condition!

What a contrast this critique is with the commendation the Lord gives to Smyrna, the suffering church! "I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich)" (Rev. 2: 9). The Laodiceans obviously didn't know these riches: was it because they did not experience suffering? Is this not a great challenge for Christians today, many of whom are living in an affluent society? We shy away from suffering and tend to be guilty of compromise,3 instead of standing firm for the truth of God.

3 The agreement made in 1994 between Evangelicals and Catholics in the USA reflects this attitude.

Paul's example puts us to the test today: "as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things" (2 Cor. 6: 10). Our blessed Lord is, of course, always the perfect Model: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent me to... preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised" (Luke 4: 18). "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich" (2 Cor. 8: 9). The poor saints in Macedonia are still an example for us today (cp. also Luke 6: 20; Matt. 5: 3). In Laodicea there was total ignorance with regard to their condition. Nevertheless, the Lord has good tidings, (now from the glory, whereas in Luke 4 He acted while on earth), even for them, as we will see in Revelation 3: 18.

(4) "blind"

In the Scriptures, beggar and blind are often mentioned in the same clause or sentence. The word used here by the Lord is a derivative of a verb that means to cause or emit smoke, or to wrap in a mist. It has a figurative meaning of: "1) to make proud, puff up with pride, render insolent; to be puffed up with haughtiness or pride; 2) to blind with pride or conceit, to render foolish or stupid; 2a) beclouded, besotted." (Thayer/BDB). In this context I think of Isaiah 6: 9-10 where the Lord says, "Go and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and

shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed." This was the condition of the Pharisees, as the Lord explained several times in the Gospels (e.g. Matt. 15: 14; John 9: 39-41; cp. 12: 35-50). Sad to say a similar condition was found in Laodicea. It is a condition which may affect any Christian, as Peter had already warned: "But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins" (2 Peter 1: 9). However, the Lord came into this world to the end that "blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good tidings preached to them" (ASV Matt. 11: 5). In a different context, as we hope to see, this also applies to Laodicea.

(5) "naked"

This word means, "uncovered, bare, exposed; poorly dressed, in need of clothes; perhaps wearing only an undergarment (as in John 21: 7)." What does it mean in the context of the Lord's message to Laodicea? I suggest that the Christians there were not clothed with Christ, as we are supposed to be.

What happened to the young man in Mark 14, who witnessed our Lord being taken captive, speaks of a lack of experience and maturity. He still had to learn identification with the Lord's death.4 However, this fifth accusation of the Lord concerning Laodicea rather speaks of a state of indifference towards Christ, so that practically and morally speaking they were not clothed with Him.

4 The word for the linen cloth in Mark 14: 51 is the word used for the linen wrappings in which the Lord's body was laid in the grave (Mark 15: 46; Luke 23: 53).

In contrast to this we read, "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ" (Gal 3: 27), referring to our position here on earth. Furthermore in Ephesians 1: 6 we read that God has accepted us in the Beloved and other passages confirm the idea that God sees us as clothed with Christ. This is the position that every Christian has before God. However, the passage in Revelation 3 has to do with actual practice. Are we practically clothed with Christ?

Christ's Greatness in the Epistle to Laodicea (4)

After the solemn verdict that the Lord as the righteous Judge had to pronounce against the assembly in Laodicea (Rev. 3: 15-17), Christ presents Himself as the great Counsellor. In our days there are multitudes of counsellors, often with good intentions (but not always), trying to bring in man's remedies, which are doomed to fail. In a day when man has an abundance of resources, as the people in Laodicea had, one easily becomes self-complacent, self-sufficient, self-righteous, etc. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to be open to the resources that God makes available to us. Already in the apostle Paul's days there was a need to distinguish between two different orders of resource: man's wisdom and God's wisdom.

The first order rejects the second, but the second, linked with Christ as the wisdom and the power of God, is constantly exposed to perils and temptations, namely that something of the first order will compromise it, and this in a subtle and deceiving way. In 1 Corinthians 1 and 2 we read many valuable lessons concerning this potential danger and we learn how the apostle, led by the Spirit of God, deals with such a challenging situation. I recommend a careful study of those chapters.

Before we meditate upon the character of His counsel, and the remedies and resources which the Lord makes available to the longing soul, it is good to look first at the Lord Himself, the great and best Counsellor. In a day when, humanly speaking, there is no more hope for Israel, God introduces Immanuel (Isa. 7: 14f; Isa. 9: 6f) who brings His answer to the problems and sustains a weak remnant that relies on Him and enjoys His company (Immanuel means "God with us"). One of His many names is Counsellor. Is it not our experience that as long as we seem or think to manage for ourselves, we do not really turn to the Lord for help? This is what the soul in Romans 7 has to learn, as far as the way of practical righteousness with God is concerned: to really surrender to God and to His resources.

It has been a need, and often a lack in every phase of the church's history, to turn to God's Counsellor and to His resources. Studying the book of Judges, I was struck to notice in Judges 2 and Judges 10 how a constantly recurring cycle is described: (1) sin and rebellion; (2) God's discipline, His dealings in retribution, bringing His people into bondage under the yoke of the enemy; (3) repentance, as they confess and abandon their sins, and cast themselves upon God; (4) followed by public restoration and (5) concluded by rest. Thus God forced them as it were to pay attention to His counsel. However, God looks for willing hearts (John 7: 17), as He found for instance in Rebecca in Genesis 24: 5.

The remnant that returned from the Babylonian captivity was encouraged by God's prophet Zechariah to rebuild the temple, as he drew their attention to the Branch or Sprout (Zech. 6: 12f). Their eyes were also directed to a future day of glory, when the true King will rule upon Jehovah's throne in Jerusalem and He shall be a Priest upon His throne, "and the counsel of peace shall be between them both." Even with regard to the millennial reign of righteousness and peace, the Word presents Him as the Counsellor. Will He not always be God's prophet who reveals His mind and counsel, even in the blessed context of His public reign?

God's will, purpose, counsel

Let us now think for a moment about God's counsel in Ephesians 1: 11, which is according to His will and for His own pleasure. Ephesians 1 presents three dimensions of God's will: past (Eph. 1: 4f), present (Eph. 1: 9), and future (Eph. 1: 11)! It was a special feature of Paul's ministry that he could reveal the whole counsel of God (Acts 20: 27) which was realized in time, and expressed in the members of Christ's body on earth, according to God's will or purpose (1 Cor. 12: 11). In connection with our new birth we read in James 1: 18, "Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures." In Hebrews 6: 17 the author of the epistle shows how God's blessing for His people is according to the promise of God who cannot lie, who does not change His purposes at random and who confirmed everything by an oath. To this He adds the further security of showing and giving them free access to His throne (Heb. 6: 18ff; 10: 19ff).

It is a blessing to become more acquainted with God's purposes and counsels, and to learn His sovereignty (Rom. 9: 19ff), as well as His ways (Rom. 11: 32-36). How striking it is to read in this context: "who hath been His (God's) counsellor?" (Rom. 11: 34). The same word is used (now as a verb) by our Lord in Revelation 3: 18, where He counsels us! Should we then not listen?

Centred in Christ

The foundation of our salvation is also linked with God's purpose and counsel, centred in Christ and in His sacrifice, whereas at the same time, in an unfathomable way, man's responsibility is maintained: "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." This passage in Acts 2: 23 should be compared with 4: 28 where God's hand and counsel is emphasized and with 5: 38f in the same book. We find a beautiful Old Testament example in David who served the will (purpose) of God in his own generation, and in this there lies a challenge for every believer who has a heart for God's will (Acts 13: 36).

Christ, God the Son, has the same authority as God the Father (John 5), and He reveals the Father to whomsoever He wills (the same verb for purpose or counsel. Matthew 11: 25-27). The same passage continues to underline man's responsibility (vs. 28-30): wonderful balance and unity of Scripture! Luke 10: 22 is another example of this unsearchable harmony. These passages underline Christ's greatness as Son, while taking the place of a humble Man, subject to the purpose, counsel, or will of the Father, as in Gethsemane (Luke 22: 42). What an Example and Model!

God's will and man's

The greatness of God expresses itself in giving man a place of responsibility in which he can do his own will and follow the counsels of his own heart. However, the human will needs to submit to God's will and counsel (cp. 2 Peter 3: 9). In 1 Timothy 6: 9 Paul shows that believers who purpose to become rich, fall into temptation and into a terrible snare. The verb for counsel (without the preposition sun, which is added in Rev. 3: 18) is used by Paul to express his healthy desires for believers or for himself, to give counsel for their functioning and well-being in the house of God (1 Tim. 2: 8; 1 Tim. 5: 14; Phil. 1: 12; 2 Cor. 1: 17). Luke 7: 30 underlines man's responsibility regarding God's counsel as linked with His ways with the Jews. In John 18: 39 the same verb for counsel is used with respect to the people's will toward their Messiah.

I underline these different aspects, because the Lord's counsel to Laodicea has been rejected by the majority of Christians, but should be heeded by us even though we may form a very small remnant. The word counsel implies the idea of common sense (Luke 14: 31), sometimes wise, sometimes not (see Acts 27: 12, 42f). Let us be wisdom's children and pay attention to the Lord's counsel. Man's counsel-and God fully maintains his responsibility, also when it concerns believers-will be considered and evaluated ultimately by God (see 1 Cor. 4: 5). Joseph of Arimathea, an honourable counsellor (Mark 15: 43; Luke 23: 50f), is a reflection of something we find in Christ in perfection (cp. Isa. 9: 6) and which the assembly in Laodicea was lacking. Finally I underline that there is a close connection between God's pleasure, desire, will and counsel, on the one hand and man's will on the other (2 Peter 3: 9; Ezek. 33: 11), as well as with the mystery and wonder of Christ's sacrifice for sin, summarized in Isaiah 53: 10!

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