lukewarm
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. 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 that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
-Revelation 3:14-22

The last of the seven letters is to the church in Laodicea, and they got the harshest treatment of all. Jesus typically started off a letter with some praise for what the believers were doing, or some compassion for what they were going through. Not Laodicea. He just went straight after them, comparing them to lukewarm water. Their problem was that they were neither hot water nor cold water — they were somewhere in the middle. Cold water is refreshing and revives the spirit on a hot day. Hot water is comforting and healing, relaxing the muscles after a hard day’s work. Lukewarm water is basically useless. You don’t want to drink it, and you can’t bathe in it. I suppose you could give it to the dog, but that’s about all that it is good for. The point that Jesus was making is this: We need to be useful for something in God’s kingdom.

Being Lukewarm isn’t about Passion

For a very long time, I thought that Jesus was talking about being hot or cold in our love for him. I thought that Jesus would rather we love him A LOT or be completely indifferent to him, just don’t be somewhere in between. I was taught that being lukewarm means being wishy-washy. It means coasting through life without taking God seriously. We’re supposed to be passionate for God. We’re supposed to be on fire for him. And if we’re not, then we’re the kind of Christian that Jesus despises. Our only two acceptable choices are unbeliever or passionate believer.

But I don’t think that’s what this verse is saying. Being hot or cold isn’t about passion; it’s about purpose. I’m pretty sure that everything I was taught about this passage is wrong, and that has pretty significant implications for a lot of people who just couldn’t live up to the demand of being a passionately on-fire for Jesus 24/7. I mean, just think about the metaphor for a minute. When you want a cold drink and you drink something cold, you’re happy. When you want a hot drink and you drink something hot, you’re happy then, too. But when your drink has been sitting out for a while and it gets to room temperature, what kind of face do you make when you drink it? A contortion of disgust, right? When you want a cold Coke or a hot coffee, do you even finish the one that’s at room temperature? I’m guessing not.


Being hot or cold isn’t about passion. It’s about purpose.

Jesus isn’t secretly saying, “I wish you would be hot all the time.” He’s not putting pressure on us to live at an unsustainable level of passion all the time. What he’s saying actually cuts much deeper. He’s telling Laodicea, “I wish you were good for something.” I mean…dang.

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The Mark of the Beast

Guys. I’ve done it. I’ve solved the puzzle. Finally, after 2,000 years, because of my hard work and intellectual prowess, we can now know exactly what the mark of the beast is. Every towering genius of the past quakes before me. This mystery, which has been studied and debated by scholars of Scripture for centuries, will now finally be revealed in this blog post. By me. A genius. No. Even better: A galaxy-brained genius.

Ok, so maybe I don’t know what the mark of the beast actually is. The book of Revelation is super confusing, and the further we get from the time of its writing, the more difficult it is for us to discern its mysteries. It’s not written in a straightforward way. It’s timeline is most likely non-linear. The images, exploding off the page as they do, are so vivid and strange that they mask the reality to which they point. Is it past? Is it present? Is it future? The answer is an emphatic, “Yes!” It is all of these. It is history and prophecy, of both the physical and spiritual realms. It is current events — the news. It was the news. It is the news. It will be the news. Get it? Hardly. But I do have some thoughts.


The book of Revelation was the news, is the news, and will be the news.

Lots of folks think we’re living in the days prophesied in Revelation — the end times. People have always thought this, though, and I have a feeling that they’ve always been a little bit wrong but a whole lot right. We’ve been living in the last days ever since Jesus ascended back into the Father’s presence. His death, resurrection, and ascension kicked off an entirely new age in world history. We’re in the last days, the last phase of this world before Jesus makes everything new. The end is near! We’re just not quite to the last hour yet.

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open and shut
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 placed 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. 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. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them 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 them my new name. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
-Revelation 3:7-13

Jesus is pretty intent on making it clear to the church in Philadelphia that he is the Jewish Messiah. As far as he’s concerned, it’s an open and shut case. Obviously. He calls himself the Holy One and the True One. He says that he holds the key of David. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but it’s obvious that all of these are significant claims. He also seems to know who is and is not authentically Jewish, and the local synagogue is definitely not a true Jewish synagogue. In fact, he goes so far as to call it a synagogue of Satan. As the Jewish Messiah, Jesus is able to discern who is and is not a real member of God’s family.


What Jesus opens no one can shut; what Jesus shuts no one can open.

When Jesus tells John to tell the church in Philadelphia that he holds the key of David, I think what he means to say is this: I am the only one who can open the door to the Messianic kingdom. The new reality that awaits the people of God is locked, and only Jesus can take us into this awe-inspiring, wonderful space. He is the one who opens or closes the door to new creation. In the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to himself as the gate, and access into God’s family is only granted through him. Here in Revelation, Jesus puts it in even starker terms: What I open no one can shut; what I shut no one can open. There isn’t another way into the Messianic world. It’s Jesus or nothing.

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To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
-Revelation 3:1-6

The reputation is not always the reality. The church in Sardis had a reputation for being alive, but the spiritual reality of their condition was that they were dead. Maybe they were coasting on the spiritual vitality of a previous generation. They weren’t creating any momentum for God’s kingdom themselves. Stuck in neutral, they were enjoying the downhill speed created by the courage and faithfulness of their parents’ generation. But a steep climb is coming, and they aren’t going to make it unless they wake up and hit the gas.


Strengthen what remains but is about to die.

Or maybe they’re just blind to the reality of their actual spiritual condition. It’s hard for me to see what’s wrong with me. It’s difficult for me to diagnose my own disease. What isn’t already dead is dying, and I’m out here believing my own hype, coasting on the work of others without adding any forward momentum of my own. This is what it’s like to be in Sardis, the corpse-church that thinks it’s doing just fine. “You’ve got the reputation of being a fine vineyard,” Jesus says to them, “but you can’t show me a single grape you grew yourself.” What are you going to pass on to your children? A stalled car at the bottom of the hill fresh out of gas. Wake up, Sardis. Wake up, America.

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To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’ To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’ —just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
-Revelation 2:18-29

Jesus is, once again, upset with one of the seven churches because of their tolerance of, let’s call them alternative teachings within a congregation. Do you remember when tolerance was the big cultural buzzword? It was considered a virtue to be tolerant of other people’s beliefs, decisions, and ways of living. Who are we, after all, to judge another person? There was some truth to this perspective. Christians need to understand that it’s none of our business what those do who are outside of the church (see Paul in 1 Corinthians 5). We are, however, supposed to express a certain level of intolerance toward those who are inside the church — those who, like Jezebel from this passage, are teaching and practicing things that are transgressive, that are against God’s laws.


That which we tolerate will dominate.

If you’ve been paying attention to the culture over the past couple of years, you may have noticed that tolerance isn’t good enough anymore. It is an insufficient minimal virtue. We have moved beyond tolerance, and the new minimal social demand is acceptance. The call to tolerate the transgressive has become the demand to accept the transgressive, and is quickly becoming the mandate to celebrate the transgressive. It is no longer culturally acceptable to let other people live their lives, even if you disagree with or disapprove of their choices. We must now at least accept, if not outright celebrate, every choice. (Well, not every choice, but you know what I mean.) We might call this “the transgressive journey,” where something which was once roundly condemned slowly becomes tolerated, then accepted, then celebrated, and finally it will dominate and redefine the culture itself.

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