Pastor John, I see very plain statements in the Bible that show that Christ does not lose any of His true sheep. However, I am struggling to understand a passage in Revelation 3 where Christ says “because you are lukewarm… I will spit you out of My mouth.” Are you able to help me understand what these words mean?
Thanks for your question. The phrase you quoted, lifted out of its context, has caused many to doubt the biblical doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. To correctly understand the verse in question, one has to see the broader context and know something of the historical background.
Please allow me to illustrate. Suppose someone 300 years from now, comes across a letter written this year (2013) in which a mother writes, “After the Church service today, we all went to McDonalds and each of the kids had a happy meal.”
Then let us imagine (hard as it may be to do so) that sometime between now and 300 years from now, all the McDonalds restaurants go out of business. I realize that might be a far fetched notion, but lets go along with it for a moment for the sake of illustration.
Then, 300 years from now, someone who has never heard of the McDonalds restaurant chain looks at the words “we all went to McDonalds” and assumes that this meant a Scottish family (rather than a restaurant). They then assume that the phrase “each of the kids had a happy meal” meant that the kids were happy when they ate the food. We can almost laugh at such an interpretation knowing that it misses the mark completely. That is because here in the 21st Century, the words “McDonalds” and “happy meal” are almost universally understood to refer to a restaurant and a special sized meal for children (that includes a small toy for them to play with).
The idea of McDonalds being a Scottish family and that the kids enjoyed their meal, is a possible interpretation, but that is not how these words would normally be understood in our early 21st Century context. It is far more likely that the intended meaning of the words are that the family went to a well known restaurant called McDonalds, and each of the kids had child sized meals which included toys for each child.
I say all this because the words in Revelation chapter 3 had a context, that when known, make the passage easy to understand. However, when historical context is either unknown or ignored, we are likely to misinterpret the intended meaning of the text.
The words you quote are taken from a passage in Revelation chapter 3 (v. 14-22) where the Lord Jesus, through His apostle John, is writing to the Church at Laodicea. The city of Laodicea was located in the Lycus River Valley and was an important commercial center in the first century. The local water supply was not adequate for the many residents of the city and so an underground aqueduct was built.
Two cities were in close proximity to Laodicea and both of them had contrasting types of water. Hierapolis was well known for its hot springs, and Colosse was famous for its cold refreshing water that flowed from a mountain stream. There are great uses for hot water and cold water, however, Laodicea, with only its underground aqueduct, had only tepid (or lukewarm) water. Visitors unaccustomed to Laodicea tasting the water would immediately detest it and spit it out.
In Christ’s 33 years on earth, there is no record of Him traveling to the region in and around Laodicea. Touching His humanity, all we can say about His knowledge of the area can only be mere speculation. However, as the Ascended Christ and in His full deity, Christ knows all things and therefore can address the Laodicean Church with full knowledge of the geographical data. Christ used the historical situation known by all Laodiceans to describe the spiritual condition of the local Church there. The Church in Laodicea was neither cold (outwardly hostile to Christ) nor hot (zealous for Christ and His gospel), but were instead lukewarm – professing faith in Christ but were really hypocrites of the highest order, and certainly, not true disciples of Christ.
Theologians have long made the distinction between the visible and invisible Church. The visible Church is the Church man sees. We see with our eyes all who make a profession of faith in Christ. The invisible Church is the Church that is seen only by God – His true sheep. The Lord knows the identity of His elect, even when we (because we do not see things as He does) are fooled. God, of course, is never fooled. “The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Tim. 2:19).
We all know that not everyone who professes Christ, truly possess Christ. Many say they know Him, but Christ will say to many professors “depart from Me, I never knew you.” (Matt 7:21ff). Notice that! He does not say, “I knew you at one time but you blew it.” No, He says that He never knew them. There never was a time when Christ was united to them, savingly.
When Christ says to such people, “I will spit you out of My mouth” He was speaking to a Church full of hypocrites. To use another Biblical expression, they honored Christ with their lips but their hearts were far from Him. Just as the Lord Jesus (in the Gospels) saved His harshest words for the religious hypocrites of His day (the Scribes and Pharisees), so the Lord will vomit such lukewarm members of the Church in Laodicea out of His mouth.
He addresses this same exact group (the Church of Laodicea) just a few verses later when He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:20) Christ stood outside the Church and through the means of this letter, was knocking on the door. There was not a single true believer in the Laodicean Church, and yet, as Dr. John MacArthur stated, “If one member would recognize his spiritual bankrupcy and respond in saving faith, He would enter the church.” A full explanation of Revelation 3:20 can be found here.
The verse you quote has nothing to do with a true believer losing salvation. It is in fact a word to a Church that seemed to have everything, naturally speaking, but spiritually was completely destitute – poor, blind and naked. That is why Christ exhorts them, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (v. 18, 19)
Now you know something of the background, read through the passage again and see if the meaning now becomes clear:
14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so 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 eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
– Revelation 3:14-22
I hope that helps. God bless, John