In May of 1980, Harry Randall Truman, an eighty-three-year-old man, received an urgent request by authorities to evacuate the premises of the Mount Saint Helens Lodge at Spirit Lake. Unfortunately, Truman refused to heed their admonition, and both he and the lodge were buried under 150 feet of mud and rubble when the volcano erupted. (1)
Likewise, Christ has given His church seven specific warnings in Revelation 2- 3*, emphasizing the last three messages to Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea as especially urgent for the salvation of His people today. (2)
The Sardis Message
Currently, Christian spirituality is dying in the United States, much like it did in the church of Sardis and its symbolic time period following the Protestant Reformation. During this period of history, disputes arose within Christianity, resulting in the unwarranted number of Protestant denominations still in existence today. Yet, even in this dismal condition, Jesus promises that He has the seven stars in His hands (Rev. 1:20; 3:1). Like the heavenly stars, God’s ministers are ultimately directed by Christ; otherwise, they would become “fallen stars,” and the church would “languish and die.” (3) How wonderful it is that Jesus is the Head of His work, and it is directly under His control! Although conflict rages, Christ will not allow controversy to splinter His remnant church. The servant of God declares: “I know that the Lord loves His church. It is not to be disorganized or broken up into independent atoms. (4, italic supplied) However, just as Jesus rebuked the church of Sardis for their hypocrisy (Rev. 3:1), God’s people are cautioned today, “The standard must be uplifted between the dead and the living. For all to take the standard of the dead in order to preserve harmony would be poor policy.” (5) Like the church of Sardis, Christ counsels His current followers to “be watchful and strengthen the things which remain . . .” (Rev. 3:2) Otherwise, they may be caught unprepared for His soon return (Rev. 3:3).
The Philadelphian Message
In contrast to Sardis, the church of Philadelphia receives no rebuke, only encouragement to persevere, even if it has “little strength” (Rev. 3:8). Jesus introduces Himself by saying that He holds the “key of David,” and “opens, and no one shuts and shuts and no one opens” (Rev. 3:7). What door is He speaking of? In Revelation 3:7-8, Jesus passes through the heavenly door of the Holy Place (Rev. 4:5) and moves into the Most Holy Place (6) where the Ark of the Covenant holds the Ten Commandments (Rev. 11:19). This change of location signals the beginning of the investigative judgment of God’s people (Dan. 7:10), based upon the imperative standards found in God’s Law. It was no coincidence, then, that during the Great Awakenings of the 19th century (the symbolic time period of Philadelphia), the importance of keeping the fourth commandment, the seventh-day Sabbath, was largely rediscovered and resulted in the birth of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. However, Sabbath-keeping, today, continues to be challenged, especially by the counter efforts of a religious entity that would “think to change times and law” (Daniel 7:25).
Recently, Pope Francis referred to the “commandment to keep Sunday” (not found in the Bible) and stated that Sunday, the first day of the week, is the “day of rest.” (7) Throughout history, the Catholic Church has claimed to have changed the Ten Commandments, not only the fourth commandment that says to rest on Saturday, the seventh-day Sabbath, but also the second that says not to bow down to idols, deleting it entirely. (8) Moreover, in 2018, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation published an article that possibly explains why the pope claims to have the authority to alter God’s Law:
Pope Francis breaks Catholic traditions whenever he wants because he is “free from disordered attachments.” Our Church has indeed entered a new phase: with the advent of this first Jesuit pope, it is openly ruled by an individual rather than by the authority of Scripture alone or even its own dictates of tradition plus Scripture. (9, italic supplied)
According to this source, the pope has the power to supersede God’s Word. Christ knew that this kind of deception would happen in the closing days of earth’s history, and He, in contrast, grants a special blessing to all who keep His commandments (Rev. 3:10; 22:14).
However, presently, some Christians are stressing a “Jesus only” philosophy that downplays the practical application of God’s Law manifested in righteous living. For example, a recent article published in Adventist Today stated, “How can the law be currently binding if faith expressed through love is, exclusively, all that counts?” (10) God warns His people of the “synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 3:9;) who claim to be a part of God’s remnant church but have ‘crucified to themselves the Son of God afresh and put him to open shame.’” (11) These deceived brethren work “to cast off the divine law and confuse the distinction between good and evil.” (12) However, like the church of Philadelphia, Jesus commends those who have kept His Word (including the Ten Commandments) and have not denied His name (Rev. 3:9).
The Laodicean Message
In direct contrast to Philadelphia, the Laodicean church receives no commendations by Christ (Rev. 3:15-17); instead, its rebuke is a decisive warning for Christians today. The tepid water piped into the city of Laodicea was a fitting symbol of its church’s lukewarm spiritual condition (13). Unfortunately, this lukewarm state is still evident in God’s people presently. In a recent survey, Americans were asked, “If Jesus suddenly came back to earth, would He approve or disapprove of modern Christianity?” A mere twelve percent said He would approve, and seventy-nine percent said He would disapprove. (14) Perhaps the following statement explains the reason why being lukewarm is so devastating to the church:
Half-hearted Christians are worse than infidels; for their deceptive words and noncommittal position lead many astray. The infidel shows his colors. The lukewarm Christian deceives both parties. He is neither a good worldling nor a good Christian. Satan uses him to do a work that no one else can do. (15, italic supplied)
According to this quote, a lukewarm Christian is a secret agent for Satan. Unfortunately, these imposters attack the church from within and tarnish its witness to the world.
Presently, church members display this lukewarm condition is by their lack of biblical knowledge. Although most Americans claim Christianity, according to a recent Barna study, the majority don't believe that Satan or the Holy Spirit really exist. And even though the Bible is very clear about the sinless nature of Christ, twenty-two percent believe that Jesus sinned while he was on the earth. (16) Jesus looks down upon His people’s pitiful condition and calls them “poor, blind, and naked.” He lovingly bids them to buy from Him gold refined in the fire, white garments, and eye salve (Rev. 3:18).
Gold, for the ancient Laodiceans, was abundant, and many were likely shocked at Christ’s reference to their poverty, just as most Americans would be today. In contrast, they lived in a prosperous commercial center, located on a main trade route, so most citizens lived a luxurious life (17). Presently, in the United States, wealthy lifestyles are common. For example, NBA superstar, Michael Jordan, was paid more money than the 30,000 Indonesian workers combined who made his Nike shoes, (18) so when Jesus counsels His church to buy gold, what does He mean? First Peter 1:7 states that “the genuineness of your faith” is “more precious than gold.” Therefore, the gold that the Lord longs to give is the gold of faith, tried by the fire of trials, and displayed in the life of a Christian.
In addition to faith, Jesus invites His church, in both ancient and modern times, to buy from Him the “eye salve” of the Holy Spirit (Rev. 3:18). Interestingly, the Laodiceans were known for their purported knowledge of medicine, exemplified in their eye salve. (19) Doctors in the military of the United States still wear the symbol of a staff with a serpent(s) entwined around it, which originated from the cult of Aesculapius found in Laodicea (20).
When Christ appeals to His people throughout the ages to buy eye salve, He is offering them spiritual discernment to recognize their desperate need. One author declares that the message to the Laodiceans is “applicable to our condition,” especially for “those who think they have all the truth, who take pride in their knowledge of the Word of God, while its sanctifying power has not been felt in their lives.” (21) Today, Jesus calls His people to spend time with Him daily in His Word and in prayer, allowing Him to change them into His image so that they might be prepared for His Second Coming.
Moreover, both now and in the past, Christ longs to give His followers white garments, representing purity of character. The ancient Laodiceans largely gained their prosperity by selling exquisite clothing made of black wool. (22) Perhaps this is the reason why Jesus tells them to buy from Him white garments which are “the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:8). However, today when one talks about good works, it is often looked upon as legalism. The servant of God warns:
When the people are thus led to believe that desire is the highest law, that liberty is license, and that man is accountable only to himself, who can wonder that corruption and depravity teem on every hand? . . . Satan says to the world: ‘No matter how wicked you are; no matter whether you believe or disbelieve God and the Bible, live as you please; heaven is your home. . . (23)
Many Christian churches inadvertently teach this falsehood when they declare that the Ten Commandments were nailed to the cross, and love is all that matters. But again, Ellen White warns:
Love is dwelt upon as the chief attribute of God, but it is degraded to a weak sentimentalism, making little distinction between good and evil. God’s justice, His denunciations of sin, the requirements of His holy law, are kept out of sight. (24)
Instead of turning God’s grace into a license to sin, Jesus pronounces a blessing on all who obey the commandments of God (Rev. 22:14) and identifies His remnant people as commandment-keepers (Rev. 12:17).
Finally, Jesus offers a snapshot of His tender mercy and patience in His closing words to the Laodiceans: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). Christians are admonished today not to wait, but to open the door of their hearts to the Savior:
Every warning, reproof, and entreaty in the Word of God, or through His delegated messengers, is a knock at the door of the heart; it is the voice of Jesus, asking for entrance. With every knock unheeded, your determination to open becomes weaker and weaker. If the voice of Jesus is not heeded at once, it becomes confused in the mind with a multitude of other voices, the world’s care and business engross the attention, and conviction dies away. The heart becomes less impressible and lapses into a perilous unconsciousness of the shortness of time and of the great eternity beyond. (25)
Jesus pleads with both the Laodiceans and His modern church by saying, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore, be zealous and repent” (Rev. 3:19). Today God’s people desperately need to accept His correction, repent of their sins, display a godly character, and unite in the mission of proclaiming Christ’s Second Coming to the world.
The seven messages found in Revelation apply powerfully to God’s church right now. Each of them contains warnings that a spiritual “volcano” is about to explode, ending probation for all of mankind. Persistently, Jesus is knocking on every heart, urging His people to accept His counsel and be saved. The question, however, remains: Will we open the door and choose to heed His warnings today?
*All Bible texts quoted are taken from the New King James Version
Melissa Sexson Hanson is an avid student of Bible prophecy and an active member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. She has elementary education and English secondary degrees from Union College and is currently working as a freelance writer with the purpose of preparing souls for Christ’s soon return.
2. Review and Herald, August 20, 1903, par. 22
3. The Acts of The Apostles, 586.3
4. Selected Messages, Vol. 2:68.3
5. Ms. 128, 1901 (December 24, 1901) par. 41
6. Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. 4; 271.2
12. Christian Experience and Teachings, 207.1
15. Letter 44, 1903.31
21. Review and Herald, July 23, 1889, par. 12
23. GC 556
24. GC 558
25. Review and Herald, November 2, 1886, par. 5