I regularly receive a daily devotional from Open Doors, a Christian organization that stands with believers being persecuted around the world.
In a recent newsletter, they quoted Iranian Christian leader, Luke Yagnazar, who now lives in the US. Having come from a country where a person can be thrown in jail or even executed for believing in Jesus, Yagnazar talked about his faith struggle in the US.
“It is more difficult to be a Christian in the USA than in Iran. There you are either a Christian or not.”
In Iran, your decision to become a Christian is not taken lightly. It is very black and white.
But in Canada, the US and many other Western countries we have developed a second tier of Christianity. Colored gray, it easily infects us all, myself included.
The Book of Revelation talks about this second tier using a slightly different analogy. Speaking to the church at Laodicea, the Apostle John writes:
15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. (Revelation 3: 15-16 NASV)
The Book of Revelation was a prophetic vision of the end times received by the Apostle John while banished on the Island of Patmos. At the beginning of his vision he had a message to seven churches that existed in his day.
However, many believe due to the prophetic nature of John’s vision, this message to the seven churches also describes issues and challenges that will face the church in the last days.
So what made the Laodicean Christians lukewarm?
The passage points to the cause:
17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, (Revelation 3:17 NASV)
Because of its textile industry, banking and location on a major trade route, Laodicea was a very wealthy city.
In her article, The Church of Laodicea in Bible and Archaeology on Bible Archaeology, Megan Sauter writes that Laodicea’s problems stemmed from a decree made by the Roman Emperor Domitian who ruled at that time.
Though the Romans treated their emperors as gods, this usually only happened after death. But Domitian declared himself a god before he died and demanded worship. Referred to as the Imperial Cult, this worship often took place inside pagan temples.
The Jews were exempt from participating and because Christians were considered Jewish, they were initially exempt as well. At its start, the early church was basically made up of Jews who embraced Jesus as the Messiah. However, when God moved on the gentiles, they began flooding in and very quickly, Jews became a small, insignificant minority.
When that happened, the Romans no longer considered Christianity as an off shoot of Judaism — meaning the church was no longer exempt from Emperor worship,
Depending on where you lived, refusing to participate in the Imperial cult, could even affect a person’s ability to buy and sell referenced in John’s vision (Revelation 13:16-17).
When faced with this choice, many wealthy Christians compromised their faith and participated in the Imperial cult worship. Yet, they still claimed to be Christian and continued to go to the church – but it was this act that God labelled as lukewarm.
But God makes one last statement to the Laodiceans:
19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. (Revelation 3: 19-20 NASV)
Yes the statement that many Christians use to encourage non believers to accept Christ was actually a message God intended for lukewarm believers.
Though early Christians faced death and the ability to buy and sell in John’s day, due to the prophetic nature of this vision, many believe Christians will face this type of persecution one more time — at the end of the age.
And for some it is already starting to happen.
- The Church of Laodicea in the Bible and Archaeology: Bible Archaeology
- Difficult Assignments: Standing Strong through the storm
- Laodicea’s lukewarm legacy: conflicts of prosperity in an Ancient Christian city: Bible Archaeology