Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
This is part of larger article dealing with Jesus’ letters to the seven churches as found in the Book of Revelations. If you haven’t read parts one and two yet, I highly recommend doing so before starting to read here. You can find them by clicking on the following links: Something for Everyone (Part 1) Something for Everyone (Part 2)
Alright, now then, where were we? Oh yes…
The Church in Philadelphia
-Even though the church in Philadelphia was weak and under attack, they continued to hold on to Christ as hard as they could.
To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have place before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name (Revelation 3:7-8).
-None, actually Jesus tells the church in Philadelphia to just keep on truckin’.
I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown (Revelation 3:11).
What This Means for us
-The few, the humble, the weak. From the outside, the church in Philadelphia didn’t look like much. They don’t seem to be a particularly large congregation, and they’re coming under a lot of scrutiny. One of the main groups they seemed to come into a lot of conflict with was a group of Jews (by birth) who felt that the Philadelphians were not actually serving God (or at least not in the right way). Jesus speaks of this conflict as he says,
I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars- I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you (Revelation 3:9).
Now who these particular “Jews” were is left to speculation as Jesus doesn’t really speak any more on the topic. However, it should be noted that a very large problem that faced the early church were false apostles that spread the word that Christians had to follow the whole Law of Moses. Paul wrote of these people, “Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh” (Philippians 3:2). Actually, from his writings, it’s pretty apparent that these people were quite a thorn in Paul’s side. After having to spend a few paragraphs of explaining that circumcision wasn’t important for a believer, Paul finally let his anger slip a little in Galatians 5:12, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” What defined a believer was constantly under scrutiny then, and it still is today. And even though we think we’ve moved on from such topic as what defines a true believer, there are still numerous divides throughout the body of Christ. Consider this, by having different denominations (and even a couple major branches of Christianity), we’re implying that our brothers are worshiping in the wrong way, and therefore their worship is somehow less than ours. There seems to be a very “us or them” philosophy, especially between Protestants and Catholics. But even amongst congregations we find a divide between those who are doing everything right in the body, and those who are trying in earnest but seem to be stumbling. Did you know that some people actually use speaking in tongues as a definer of who is in Christ and who is not? It’s ridiculous. All those who are called by the name of Christ are his. John gives us the most basic way to actually see who is with Christ and who is not. He writes,
Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist- he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us- even eternal life (1 John 2:22-25).
John keeps it simple: “Do you believe in Christ? If yes, good. Does he or she believe in Christ? Well if he says so that’s good enough for now.” Keep in mind that the Bible notes in several places, it’ll be Jesus who’ll sort out the good from the bad; so we should just keep our heads out of it.
Well then, what about this synagogue of Satan? Who are the fake believers that Jesus is so strongly against? Don’t think about people who are in the church. When our savior talks about such people, he’s not talking about members of our congregations but rather outsiders who seem to think they know more about Christ than we do. During Hezekiah’s time, Assyria laid siege to Jerusalem and started a campaign to weaken the people’s spirits. The commander of the Assyrian army stood outside the wall of Jerusalem and would call out things to make the people second-guess their security. He went against the king, he highlighted Assyria’s previous victories, he made false promises, and he also told the people they were worshipping God the wrong way,
And if you say to me, “We are depending on the Lord our God”- isn’t he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, “You must worship before this altar in Jerusalem?” (2 Kings 18:22)
Now, the commander of the army wasn’t lying. Hezekiah did remove all of the high places and altars that were not in the Temple. As a person in Israel, this is a pretty convincing argument, since the high places and personal altars allowed people to worship God more conveniently (and theoretically more often). So was Hezekiah in the wrong? Absolutely not! Hezekiah was following the Law when he made that executive decision. For it is written,
Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. Offer them only at the place the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, and there observe everything I command you (Deuteronomy 12:13-14).
Hezekiah tore down the other altars in order to protect the people and guide them into right worship. This exact sort of thing continues even today. How many unbelievers have you heard try to get away with saying, “How could a loving God send people to hell?” And a Christian who isn’t very well versed in the Bible might go, “Oh, hey, that makes sense, since God is love.” However, this is falsehood, for Jesus says himself, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). Therefore we find that our salvation is not dependent upon God’s love; but upon our relationship to Jesus Christ, his son. For it was out of his love that the Father sent Jesus into the world to die for our sins, and if we deny the son and his sacrifice for us, then we are not being cast into hell by God, rather we’re jumping into it ourselves. In the end Jesus tells the church in Philadelphia to just keep doing their best. For any Christian this is the best advice, seek truth in the Word of God and don’t give up your convictions just because someone is presenting a logical argument that you can’t seem to combat. Don’t give up, keep pressing on, and you’ll be rewarded for doing so.
The Church in Laodicea
-None. Jesus has nothing good to say about this church. In fact there isn’t even anything I can quote for this section.
-The people of Laodicea rely on themselves rather on God; they’re neither evil nor good, neither pro nor anti-Christ. They are totally middle of the road people.
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm- neither hot nor cold- I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked (Revelation 3:14-17).
What This Means for us
-I’ve heard a lot of pastors say a lot of things about the church of Laodicea. I’ve heard many people compare Laodicea to the modern-day church and things like that. I don’t know what to think. When I read about the Laodiceans I scratch my head and wonder how they can even be addressed as a church at all. Quite honestly, the people in Laodicea don’t believe in Jesus (or any solid God either it seems), and yet at the same time they’re not vehemently opposing the Body of Christ as we know it either. Who are these people? The only thing I can think of is that they’re agnostics with nowhere better to go. I recently read an article about a scientist who spent years and years studying evolution. As a non-Christian, he really wanted to be able to prove that life could exist without God. However, when he had finished all of his research, the scientist couldn’t prove evolution; citing that in many cases there had to have been some sort of design in nature rather than random happenstance. And yet, even years later, he still refuses to acknowledge God and his Son Jesus Christ. Here is a man who knows that there must be something more, and yet can’t seem to come to terms with it. I think this is a pretty good picture for the church in Laodicea. The people understood that there was more to life than random happenstance, and yet at the same time they found it hard to go all-in with faith in God. Instead then they found their lives to be based around their own successes and judged themselves based on how they appeared in life. Therefore they were neither cold nor hot. I’ve met quite a few people who are quick to acknowledge there’s probably a god of some sort, but then refuse to take the topic any further; such people will not be rewarded for hedging their bets.
But to this church, we’re given a solution. We read,
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me (Revelation 3:18-20).
The answer is Jesus. The answer is always Jesus. Is there a God? Yes, it’s Jesus Christ, our Lord. Was the earth created rather than suddenly appearing through happenstance? Yes, and Christ was there as the foundations were laid,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made (John 1:1-3).
Unfortunately, people who refuse to side with either Christ or the world are caught in the middle and they’ll likely face a lot of pain for it. For our Lord wants all people to come to him, and aside from trying to awaken the Spirit in their hearts, he’ll actually put physical pressure on a person until they decide which side they’re on. God says that those he loves he rebukes, and he loves everyone enough to give them a chance. So if you know anyone who fits the bill for the church in Laodicea, pray that when the times of trials come that they choose rightly and go with God, the one true God and Father, his Holy Spirit, and his Son Jesus Christ.
When we read the Bible, and especially passages like Jesus’ letters to the churches, where he basically nitpicks at everyone at every level in their walk with Christ, we realize that the Christian walk isn’t easy. In fact, when you consider all of the rules and regulations on our lives after coming out of the world, it seems darn near impossible to truly live like we’re expected. But remember, God sent his Holy Spirit to help us in our sanctification here on earth, and his Son to die so that we may have eternal life. Never give up, brothers and sisters; because what awaits us beyond this life is greater than anything we could get here on earth:
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God (Revelation 2:7).
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death (Revelation 2:11).
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it (Revelation 2:17).
To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations-
“He will rule them with an iron scepter;
He will dash them to pieces like pottery”-
just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star (Revelation 2:26-28).
He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels (Revelation 3:5).
Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name (Revelation 3:12)
To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and say down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 3:21-22).