Lukewarm Won't Do
It is a point of historical interest that St. Paul ordered his letter to Colossae be read in Laodicea, and his letter to Laodicea be read in Colassae [Colossians 4:16]. His letters clearly indicate that the Christians in the three neighboring cities of Colossae, Hierapolis, and Laodicea were secure.
Christ began his address to the bishop with the phrase, “Thus saith the Amen,” which refers to the Old Testament formula, “Thus saith the Lord,” a formula used by the prophets to introduce a message, which would contain, at least, in part, statements from God about his activity in the future. The Church ends a prayer, creed, or other formal statement, with the term “Amen” to express solemn ratification [so be it] or agreement [it is so].
The Hebrew word “amen” literally means “certainly” or “certainty.” By the time John received the Apocalypse in 95-96 AD, the Amen was familiar to anyone who had read the gospels or had heard them read, because, as is recorded in the gospels, Jesus used it, frequently. Indeed, he made the Amen personal to himself, as he did the “stone” or “rock” in Daniel 2; therefore, the term is inseparable from him as the Mystery of the God, whose purpose is to bring the “kingdom of the heaven” over the whole earth.
The Amen points backward, for example, to Isaiah 65, especially, verses 16-17,
He who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth; for the hardships of the past shall be forgotten, and hidden from my eyes. Behold! I am about to create a new heaven and a new earth; the things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind.
The term also points forward to the Millennium and the New Jerusalem, in Apocalypse 21:1-2,
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth passed away and the sea is no more. And I saw the city the holy [one] New Jerusalem coming down from the heaven from the God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Thus, the term “Amen” connotes the renewal of all things; and the phrase, “Thus saith the Amen,” means that Christ swore by himself: for he is the new Adam, “the witness faithful and true,” and “the beginning/origin of the creation of the God,” who has all power and authority to bring the Father's plan to fulfillment.
Hence, Christ immediately intimated to the bishop:
(1) that the words to follow would be absolutely true and certain;
(2) that they would concern the bishop's urgent need of renewal;
(3) that they would tell the consequence of failure to repent:
a) especially, for the bishop and his congregation, in the near future,
b) more especially, for the general Church in the time of the seventh seal,
c) and, most especially, for the Church in the time of the seventh trumpet.
Bear in mind that Christ deliberately made the message to Laodicea letter number SEVEN. His words were most solemn; the Eternal Truth and Certainty uttered them to Laodicea and, in fact, to the Whole Church for all generations to come. To the bishop, to everyone, Christ has delivered the ultimatum of either life or death, with little time left to choose--forever.
Persecution under the Emperor Trajan came to Asia Minor in 113 AD. Trajan was famous for riding a white horse; he was the first of the “four horsemen” mentioned in Chapter 6: for thus had said the Amen,
“I am about to vomit you out of my mouth.”
It is obvious that Christ used symbolical terms when he informed the bishop,
“You are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold.”
The three adjectives are each to be understood as indicial of spiritual condition or state
He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord and with ardent spirit, spoke and taught accurately about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. [Acts 18:25];
Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. [Rom. 12:11];
and, in turn, the condition or state is to be understood as measured according to only one model or standard: Jesus Christ. He is the exemplar omnibus [the example for all], the one who persevered perfectly in obedient love, who faithfully and truly kept the two great commandants, even to death on the cross.
It is plausible that Christ had in mind the nearby city of Hierapolis, for the descendent temperature of the waters of its springs, from hot to lukewarm to cold, corresponds with the descendent terrain: from Hierapolis on the mountain of Salbacos, to the plateau lower down, to the cliff; and these things aptly represent the bishop's situation.
In the Bible, “water” symbolizes spiritual life. Lukewarm “water” can provoke nausea; hence, the tepid bishop is nauseous to Christ. The bishop is midway between the “sacred city” higher up on the “mountain” and the “fall” over the cliff.
He has reached a plateau in his spiritual life, in the sense that he does not seek to advance in sanctity. He regards himself as levelheaded; and, what Christ considers nauseatingly neither “hot” nor “cold,” the bishop deems well-balanced and comfortable and not fanatical, but reasonable.
He has deluded himself into thinking his life is perfect and does not need any change; indeed, he thinks himself rich and secure. He is free from the troubles and weaknesses in other churches: there are no Nicolaites or Jezebels or heretics or other bothers among his people. All goes well and, he reckons, will continue so. Thus does he say in his heart, “I am rich and I have prospered and I have need of nothing.”
How unaccommodating is his memory to what Christ said on this matter,
“Amen I say to you that a rich man will enter with difficulty into the kingdom of the heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle [metaphor: one of the low, arched entrances in the wall around Jerusalem] than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of the God.” [Mt. 19:23-24]
And seeing the crowds, he went up onto a mountain, and as he was seating himself they came close to him the ones being taught by him: and opening his mouth he instructed them, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for of them is the kingdom of the heaven.” [Mt. 5:1-3]
Like the water flowing across the plateau, the bishop is falling little by little--toward the cliff. His prince of principles is ne quid nimis, “nothing to excess”; and that is the maxim of the world, the typically human. “There is some good and some bad in every man,” saith he, as he continues falling, falling, falling. It is true that a man can be both good and bad, at any particular point in life; but, it is not true that a man can become both good and bad, at the same time. The spiritual life has a motto, “Grow or die,” like that of the French Foreign Legion, “March or die.”
In the bishop's heart is secret pride and arrogance: that the riches he has are HIS; that the prosperity he enjoys was achieved by HIM; and, therefore, nothing is needed by HIM. Thrice did Christ repeat the idea of “I,” hinting that the bishop is not God, and that he has no authority to give the name “good” to anyone or anything. Adam and Eve tried that.
A man, by means of himself alone, cannot be or become good. The bishop's words, “I have need of nothing,” express what Christ abhors: self-exaltation. The insolence, the insult, of that word “nothing”!!! For such is the speech of sin, that Christ is--nothing.
I think the rest of the letter is clear enough, certainly Christ's loving and kind counsel to the bishop, on how to correct his condition. Christ saved until last his admonition to the Church, for all its future history,
“Let the one having an ear hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches!”
The letter's contents, emphatically, the phrase, “at the door,” and the clause, “I am about to vomit you out of my mouth,” are most especially applicable to the Church in the generation or two or three before the advent of the Beast of Chapter 13. Only the spiritually ignorant think that so much scientific knowledge, being used to make so much material wealth in the world, is not dangerous. Indeed, it will give rise to Babylon the Great.