Having worked our way through the short letter to the Laodicean church, we now return to the place at which we began, which is the twentieth verse of the third chapter. Jesus says “Listen! I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears My voice and opens the door I will come into his home and share a meal with him, and he with Me” (3:20). This is the crucial verse. It is what makes sense of our entire examination up to this point. In this verse, Jesus communicates what it is that has Him so thoroughly displeased with this church. It is in this verse that we find what it is that needs to be corrected. It is here that Jesus lets this church know that their practice has left Him outside their assembly, while also identifying that practice for them. It is this verse that makes the fifteenth and sixteenth verses of the chapter so telling, when Jesus says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth!” (3:15-16) The intervening verses, and especially Jesus’ insistence that those that are carrying out this practice are actually “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked” (3:17b), are meant to function as a path, using apocalyptic language, to the conclusion that must be reached by the end of the twentieth verse.
The letter to the Laodicean church is the seventh of seven letters to seven churches in Asia Minor. In each case, Jesus says that He will do something. He first directs His attention to Ephesus. There, Jesus instructs them to “do the deeds you did at first” (2:5b). If they do not, He says “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place…if you do not repent” (2:5c). The second letter is directed to Smyrna. Jesus tells them to “Remain faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown that is life itself” (2:10b). This follows from instruction to “not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer,” because “the devil is about to have some of you thrown into prison so you may be tested, and you will experience suffering” (2:10a). Next up is the church at Pergamum. To them, after making mention of a couple of irritants and says, “Therefore, repent! If not, I will come against you quickly and make war against those people with the sword of My mouth” (2:16).
The communication to Thyatira is a bit more detailed. Jesus makes reference to a woman that named “Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and by her teaching deceives My servants” (2:20b). His promised actions toward this church first have to do with her, as He says, “Look! I am throwing her onto a bed of violent illness… Furthermore, I will strike her followers with a deadly disease” (2:22a,23a). He then goes on to say, “I will repay each one of you what your deeds deserve” (2:23c). Fifth on the list is the church of Sardis. After what seems like a mild rebuke (by comparison to Thyatira) in which Jesus says that they are dead, Jesus says, “If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will never know at what hour I will come against you” (3:3b). The church at Philadelphia is next on the list. Here, Jesus speaks of some apparent enemies of this church, saying “I will make them come and bow down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you” (3:9b). Jesus then makes mention of some type of calamitous time to come, saying “Because you have kept my admonition to endure steadfastly, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is about to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth” (3:10). To this He adds: “I am coming soon” (3:11a). The letter to the Laodiceans follows. As we well know, there Jesus says that what He is doing is “standing at the door and knocking,” hoping that someone will hear His voice. If He is heard, He says “I will come… and share a meal.”
Not only does Jesus indicate that there is something that He will do, but each church also hears Jesus speak of conquering. Ephesus is told, “To the one who conquers, I will permit him to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God” (2:7b). Sardis is told “The one who conquers will in no way be harmed by the second death” (2:11b). Thyatira hears, “And to the one who conquers and who continues in My deeds until the end, I will give him authority over the nations” (2:26). To Sardis, Jesus says, “The one who conquers will be dressed…in white clothing, and I will never erase his name from the book of life, but will declare his name before My Father and before His angels” (3:5). The church at Philadelphia is told, “The one who conquers I will make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will never depart from it. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God (the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from My God), and My new name as well” (3:12). Laodicea hears: “I will grant the one who conquers permission to sit with Me on My throne, just as I too conquered and sat down with My Father on His throne” (3:21). All of these “conquering” statements are linked with “The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:7a, 2:11a, 2:17a, 2:29, 3:6, 3:13, 3:22).
An interesting, but perhaps relatively meaningless observation can be made here in that with Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum, the exhortation to “hear what the Spirit says” comes before any talk of conquering. For Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, the encouragement to hear follows the conquering and closes out the individual communications. Of course, we would be remiss if we failed to mention that these veiling words (apocalyptic language) of those with “ears to hear,” are to be found on the lips of Jesus in the record of the Gospels.