Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum
“The new phase [of apostasy] claims to affirm the fundamentals of the faith…”
The following is excerpted from The Footsteps of the Messiah – A Study of the Sequence of Prophetic Events by Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum. (Used by Permission.) In Chapter 3 of his book, “The Eschatology of the Visible Church: the Things Which Are – the Seven Churches,” Dr. Fruchtenbaum examines characteristics found in the seven churches of Revelation. As we consider apostasy in our times, let’s now take a look at its new phase:
In more recent times, a whole new phase has entered the apostasy. The old phase was characterized by destructive denials. The new phase claims to affirm the fundamentals of the faith, but they have made a paradigm shift in that the Bible is no longer the final authority in determining divine truth, but experience is equally valid. In actual practice, the experience takes priority over the Scriptures. If the Bible contradicts the practice, then the practice is justified as being “a new move of the Spirit” and, therefore, what the text of Scripture actually says can be contradicted by a new experience. This is a far more “spiritual” way of denying the truth of God and, therefore, far more deceptive. The old apostasy was marked by verbal “destructive denials.” The new apostasy is marked by practical “destructive denials.” This, in turn, has led to many strange and divers doctrines, causing many to be truly tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine and resulting in total spiritual instability, as Paul warned would happen in Ephesians 4:8–16. They may affirm the authority and inspiration of Scripture, but it is only their experience that determines the meaning of the text in particular and truth in general. The new apostasy has produced the same fruit as the old apostasy. They mock those who will not join the “new wave” (or is it being caught in the undertow?) and they have caused schisms dividing both churches and families.
The proper way of determining truth is to go to the Word of God first and not rely on the experiences of other people. Furthermore, the Bible must be the final and only authority on all matters of both faith (what we believe) and practice (actions and experiences, etc.). Unfortunately, what has happened in recent years is that a new experience or phenomenon breaks out in some part of the church, and then people simply try to find verses to justify the activity rather than be willing to admit that the experience—no matter how wonderful or supernatural it felt—was simply not of God. Most of the proponents defend the practice, not on the basis of Scripture, but on the basis of their own experience. The most common evidence is that it makes them feel happy and joyful, though this does not take into account that any kind of emotional release of this nature will make one feel better. Even unbelievers can have this same experience. Furthermore, Satan would not be a very good deceiver if he made one feel badly, would he? Satan can give people joyful and happy experiences, and doing so would be in his best interest if that—rather than the Word of God—becomes the final authority for determining spiritual truth.
Isaiah 8:16, 19–20 states:
Bind you up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples.… And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits and unto the wizards, that chirp and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? on behalf of the living should they seek unto the dead? To the law and to the testimony! If they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning for them.
One of the motifs of the Book of Isaiah is the contrast between the Remnant (Jews who believe) and the non-Remnant (Jews who do not believe). In verse 16, one crucial difference between the two groups is the place that the Scriptures have in their lives. The law is the Law of Moses, and the testimony is the words of the Prophets. What distinguishes the Remnant is that they believe that which Moses and the Prophets declared: that is the foundation of their faith, and this is also their authority. The non-Remnant rejects the Scriptures as the final authority and seeks to make God more “real in their experience” by going toward idolatry and looking at gods and goddesses that they could see, feel, and touch, creating a more visual picture while they worship. In verse 19, Isaiah issues a warning that they are not to go after counterfeit spirits and teachers that chirp and that mutter. In other words, Isaiah is warning people not to pursue supernatural things that cause them to make the strange sounds of chirping and muttering, for while these experiences might come from the supernatural, not all that comes out of the supernatural is of God, as verse 19 clearly shows. Indeed, those who go after those that chirp and that mutter could well come out with great testimonies of experiencing the supernatural and feeling joyful and great. But Isaiah would not accept any of that as valid testimony. The only valid testimony is what he declares in verse 20: To the law and to the testimony! In other words, “Back to the Law and the Prophets,” back to the Scriptures, as the only final authority. And the closing phrase should not be missed: if they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning for them. Isaiah makes it quite clear: Regardless of the supernatural experiences the others may have, it does not align with the written Word of God that was already present in Isaiah’s day, and so there is simply no morning light for them.
Later, Isaiah declared in 29:9–14:
Tarry ye and wonder; take your pleasure and be blind: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink. For Jehovah has poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes, the prophets; and your heads, the seers, has he covered. And all vision is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray you; and he says, I cannot, for it is sealed: and the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray you; and he says, I am not learned. And the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw nigh unto me, and with their mouth and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment of men which has been taught them; therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.
Isaiah introduces his comments, prophesying how people will become spiritually blind and, therefore, will stagger in spiritual blindness (v. 9). They will certainly stagger as if they were drunk, but not with alcohol. People have become spiritually blind and are groping in their spiritual darkness, having no spiritual sight to see. Isaiah points out that this has all happened because of divine judgment and is not merely accidental or coincidental (v. 10). What has happened is that because they refused to follow Isaiah’s earlier admonition (8:20), they have now been confirmed in their spiritual darkness and, therefore, have fallen into a spiritual sleep so that now they have no capacity to understand the prophets. As a result, all of the prophecies of Isaiah and the prophets that came before him have become to the populace as a book that is sealed (v. 11). When they are presented to someone who is learned, although he has had the capacity and training to understand these things, because he chose to pursue that which chirp and mutter, even for the learned one, the prophecies have become like a sealed book that he can no longer understand. Insofar as understanding spiritual truth, he has become like the one who is not trained or learned (v. 12), and the trained and learned one has the same incapacity and inability to understand the Word of God as the one who is untrained and unlearned. However, it is then made clear that outwardly these people appear both religious and spiritual (v. 13). They do continue drawing unto God with their mouths and they do honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far away from God. What makes their hearts far away from God is that whatever fear they have of the Lord is based upon man-made doctrines, commandments, and traditions, rather than that which God Himself had said and taught in the Scriptures. Thus today, the validity of a movement is based on the external. It is based on verbal pronouncements, such as “Praise the Lord” or “Praise Jesus,” or some similar-sounding phrase that is consistently repeated. What the Bible-based observer must realize is that this is merely a formula, much like those who recite a mantra in eastern religions. Simply verbalizing the name of Jesus over and over again does not by itself prove anything. In fact, it fits this verse quite well: …and with their mouth and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me (v. 13b). Their heart is far from God in reality for the same reason: they have learned to fear God on the basis of man-made and man-induced experiences, rather than on the basis of the Word of God (v. 13c). They are following these new man-made doctrines and repeat phrases they have been trained to repeat, believing that this repetition is what makes them spiritual. As a result, more time is spent on seeking further experiences than on actual study of the Word of God in its own context. The result is a further judgment where both wisdom and understanding begin to perish (v. 14). More and more, as people seek deeper and deeper experiences, they spend less and less time actually in the discipline of studying the Word of God, and they reach a point where they begin to totally lack understanding of the Word of God. While they can regularly do “God-talk” and “Jesus-speak,” when they begin to deal with the concrete details of the Word of God, they are at a total loss. The more experiential they become, the less they understand of the Word of God.
What the Scriptures emphasize is that the final authority must be the Scriptures, the written Word of God, and not anyone else’s experience. Certainly, the Apostles could have related a great deal of their own experiences with Jesus in trying to defend their preaching about Jesus. One thing the Book of Acts keeps reemphasizing is that Paul, Silas and the others always made their final authority the Word of God and not their own experiences, as great as they were when they were personally with Jesus. One example is Acts 17:1–4:
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: and Paul, as his custom was, went in unto them, and for three sabbath days reasoned with them from the scriptures, opening and alleging that it behooved the Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom, said he, I proclaim unto you, is the Christ. And some of them were persuaded, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.
By and large, one does not find Paul using his personal experiences, especially his key experience on the Damascus Road, as a tool for evangelizing. For Paul, the final authority had to be the Scriptures and not his own experience or testimony and, therefore, that was the focus of his evidence and that is what convinced so many. Those who came to believe (v. 4) did not do so because of any signs and wonders they saw Paul perform, but rather because of how he expounded the written Scriptures and showed how Jesus fulfilled the necessary Scriptures. The two times recorded where Paul does give his personal account as to how he became a believer on the Damascus Road is used as part of his defense when he is on trial. One does not find him using it in a situation where his goal was evangelism. There is a proper place for personal testimonies, but personal testimony can never be a final authority. Furthermore, people who have converted to other religions or cults—be it Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christian Science—may also give powerful testimonies of how their lives have changed. That is why, here again, the final authority and criterion has to be the written Word of God. Testimonies can never be the final evidence of the authenticity of one’s claims or beliefs.
Another example is Acts 18:28:
For he powerfully confuted the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
This is speaking of Apollos; all that he had to say was also based on that which was written. The refutation of the unbelievers was not based upon signs and wonders, but on Scripture.
One more example can be found in Acts 28:23–24:
And when they had appointed him a day, they came to him into his lodging in great number; to whom he expounded the matter, testifying the kingdom of God, and persuading them concerning Jesus, both from the law of Moses and from the prophets, from morning till evening. And some believed the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved.
Here again, what Paul used was not experience or signs and wonders. What he used was the Scriptures. His whole focus was on the Law and the Prophets, the written Scriptures of that day, to authenticate what he was teaching and preaching. The response was that some believed and some disbelieved, but those who did believe came to believe on the basis of the exposition of the written Word of God.
Besides the testimony of the Book of Acts, a good example where the focus was on the Scriptures and not on experience is what Peter says in II Peter 1:16–21:
For we did not follow cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there was borne such a voice to him by the Majestic Glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: and this voice we ourselves heard borne out of heaven, when we were with him in the holy mount. And we have the word of prophecy made more sure; where unto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spoke from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit.
Peter describes his experience at the Transfiguration when he saw the brightness of the Shechinah Glory manifested through the Messiah and heard the voice out of Heaven saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (vv. 16–18). Indeed, Peter’s experience on the Mount of Transfiguration was one of the highlights of that period of his life when he was with Jesus as a disciple. As convincing as the Transfiguration experience might have been to Peter, he points out that a far more authoritative base for believing that Jesus was the Messiah (and that this was not cunningly devised fables) is the Scriptures (vv. 19–21). Therefore, the written Scriptures themselves are what really made Peter’s faith more sure. Peter does not encourage his readers to focus on Peter’s experience on the Transfiguration, but rather on the Word of God, and it is the Scriptures, he says, that ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a lamp shining in a dark place. What makes the Scriptures truly the final authority and the basis for more sure doctrine than experience is the fact that the Scriptures were not produced by the will of man, but were the product of the Holy Spirit Who moved the Scripture writers to write exactly what He wanted them to record. Because the written Word of God is the product of the Holy Spirit, that is, indeed, the word of prophecy made more sure. Neither Peter’s great experience at the Mount of Transfiguration, nor Paul’s great experience on the Damascus Road, ever became the final authority for the faith of either. The final issue for both men was the written Word of God.
The response of some is: Isn’t the manifestation of the supernatural the evidence that this is a work of God, even if it is not found in Scripture? And are not signs and wonders the evidence of the work of God, even if the specific signs and wonders are not found in Scripture? Here, again, the answer is a decisive “no,” as the following two Scriptures again show. The first is Matthew 7:22–23:
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by your name, and by your name cast out demons, and by your name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
One should notice what these false teachers were able to do in the name of a counterfeit Jesus. Obviously, when they say they did it in your name, it means that they did use the name of Jesus and probably used it quite frequently. No doubt, it was their frequent use of Jesus’ name that deceived so many. Furthermore, they were able to do three specific things: prophesy events which did come to pass; cast out demons; and do many mighty works, such as miracles of healing and other signs and wonders. Yet, in that day, Jesus will say to them: I never knew you. Here one has all the ingredients of some of the things that are happening in the new wave of apostasy. The name of Jesus is heavily used in almost ritual-mantra style, all kinds of signs and wonders are claimed to occur, and yet, by themselves these things do not prove anything because Satan can duplicate these. Here, again, it is important to get back to the written Word of God as the final criterion, the final source of authority, and the final foundation for all matters of faith and practice.
Another example of this same area is II Corinthians 11:3–4 and 13–15:
But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity that is toward Christ. For if he that comes preaches another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye did not receive, or another gospel, which ye did not accept, ye do well to bear with him.… For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for even Satan fashions himself into an angel of light. It is no great thing therefore if his ministers also fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.
Paul emphasizes the fact that just as Satan was able to deceive Eve, even the believers of the Corinthian Church can also be deceived by Satan, perhaps not directly by Satan as Eve was, but certainly by Satan’s ministers (v. 3). It should be kept in mind that the Corinthian Church was highly involved in sensationalism, signs and wonders, and the experiential. Because the Corinthian Church based so much about its life on experience and the supernatural, that is what opened it up for deception by false teachers. Paul labels three things by the word another (v. 4): another Jesus, another gospel, another spirit. The Greek, however, has two different words here, both of which mean “another,” but they carry a slightly different shade of meaning. The first term means, “another of the same kind”; the second term means, “another of a different kind.” Rendering verse four a bit more literally from the Greek, it would read as follows:
For if he that comes preaches another Jesus of the same kind, whom we did not preach, or if ye receive another spirit of a different kind, which ye did not receive, or another gospel of a different kind, which ye did not accept, ye do well to avoid him.
What Paul is saying is that the gospel being presented is another gospel of a “different kind,” and the source is another spirit of a “different kind.” However, the Jesus being presented is another Jesus of the “same kind”; a Jesus that sounds like and seems like the Jesus of the New Testament, but is a carefully disguised counterfeit. It should be noted that the name being used to foster the work of deception is the name of Jesus. It is a counterfeit Jesus, but it is a carefully disguised counterfeit, so that one who does not judge by the Word of God is very easily deceived. Paul makes it clear that those who are propagating another Jesus are false apostles (v. 13); however, that is not the way they appear because they fashion themselves to sound like, seem like, and act like real ministers of the Messiah. By so doing, they are reflecting their true lord, Satan, who is the angel of this darkness (Eph. 6:12) and who fashions himself to appear as an angel of light (v. 14). Paul says that this should not be surprising, for if Satan will fashion himself to appear as an angel of light, certainly his own ministers will fashion themselves to appear as ministers of righteousness, but in the end, they will receive their judgment (v. 15). Again, Satan would not be very successful in his work of deception, especially with believers, if his ministers were clearly and without question “out in far left field.” To carry out the work of deception, they must certainly focus on the name of Jesus and not on some other name. But the mere usage of the name “Jesus,” even in the context of words like “praise,” “glory,” etc., does not and should not authenticate anyone’s ministry. Here, again, the final authority must be the Scriptures and not experience, signs and wonders, unusual activities, or strange noises.
The strange phenomena that have infiltrated the church should not have surprised people who are truly into the Word, for in I Timothy 4:1, Paul declared:
But the Spirit says expressly, that in later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons,…
There is, of course, biblical doctrine; but here, Paul is talking about the fact that Satan has his own system of doctrine, referred to as doctrines of demons. Those who become enamored with doctrines of demons end up giving heed to seducing spirits. What are these doctrines of demons? They are such doctrines that find no basis in the written Word of God and are only based on teachers’ claiming to have received special, divine revelation from God that, therefore, must be accepted as new truth. Those who involve themselves in such doctrines of demons end up being seduced by demonic spirits. Again, there are those who will come and defend these actions based upon how happy, good, or joyful they feel, assuming that such good feelings must be of the Lord. But all this shows is that they have, indeed, been seduced by demons. Again, Satan would not be very successful in his program of deception if his strategy was to make people feel badly. That is not going to attract much of an audience. What will attract an audience is people who can do things to make one feel good, even if the feeling is nothing more than an emotional release; but if the feeling can be ascribed to a supernatural work of God, the recipient has been deceived.
The Bible itself has given the major admonition by which one must judge all that claims to be of the Lord: the written Word of God. First Corinthians 4:6 states:
Now these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes; that in us ye might learn not to go beyond the things which are written; that no one of you be puffed up for the one against the other.
Again, it should be emphasized that Paul is saying this to a church which had a strong tendency to move towards the sensational and the experiential. But the focus on the experiential only showed that they were not spiritual, but carnal (I Cor. 3:1–3). Paul must especially admonish a church of this nature not to go beyond the things which are written. That which is written, of course, is the Holy Scriptures. For any new manifestation or phenomenon, they must go back and test it by the Word of God. If it is something that goes beyond that which is written, then it must be rejected out of hand. It is sufficient to know that if it is not in Scripture, they have gone beyond that which is written and, therefore, it is already evident that this thing is not of God. What happens to those who do go beyond that which is written? Paul declares that they become puffed up for the one against the other. They develop a spiritual pride that is evident when they go around claiming to be able to judge the Word of God by their experience.
There is one more Scripture that must be dealt with in this discussion, and that is II Timothy 3:12–4:4:
Yea, and all that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and imposters shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you abide in the things which you have learned and have been assured of, knowing of whom you have learned them; and that from a babe you have known the sacred writings which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work. I charge you in the sight of God, and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables.
Paul gives a simple message that is largely ignored by much of the modern movements today: those who seek to live godly lives will suffer persecution (v. 12). The truth is that health and wealth are not signs of divine favor or spirituality. Rather, it is being persecuted for the faith that is a sign of a truly godly person.
Paul, then, issues a warning that as time goes on there will be more and more false teachers who are truly imposters and who will go around deceiving others, many of whom will be deceived themselves (v. 13). They may well believe that they are “God’s anointed” and keep repeating it to their critics, but the fact remains that they have become deceived themselves and, therefore, proceed to deceive others as well.
So what is it that will protect Timothy from being deceived by all these false teachers? Paul answers that question in verses 14–17. Timothy is encouraged to continue in what he has learned (v. 14), and what he has learned is that since he was a child, he has been trained in the sacred writings (v. 15). Notice that the same emphasis found in I Corinthians 4:6 is found here: the written Word of God, the sacred writings. There are two things that will keep Timothy from being deceived: his knowledge of the sacred writings, and his continuing to abide in the sacred writings. The word abide has the basic meaning, “to make your home.” He is to make his home in the sacred writings. His focus is not to be on any personal experiences, no matter how supernatural they may be; as already seen in Matthew 7:22–23, his focus should not be on signs and wonders that can lead to deception as well, but he must abide in the written Word of God. What Peter said in II Peter 1:20–21, Paul says in verse 16 that the Scriptures are the inspired Word of God and, therefore, are profitable in all areas. Just how profitable are the written Scriptures? Paul answers that question, saying that the Scriptures can make the man of God to be complete himself, while also making him furnished completely unto every good work (v. 17). What this verse is teaching must not be missed. The Scriptures are sufficient to make one thoroughly complete. The written Scriptures are able to thoroughly complete one and furnish one for every work that one needs to do. One can become spiritual and mature in the faith through the Scriptures alone. However, this will take the discipline of studying the Word of God, spending hours, days, weeks, and years of a lifetime to comprehend more and more of the Word of God. But in this technological age, people have become lazy and, therefore, seek the “instant breakfast” approach to spirituality, sometimes even feeling they have become a god themselves. According to this passage, such experiences will not lead to spirituality, but instead will lead to being deceived and then continuing to deceive others as well.
Because Timothy is knowledgeable of the Scriptures, because the Scriptures are able to thoroughly furnish him for every good work, Paul then admonishes Timothy to go ahead and do the work of the ministry—reproving, rebuking, exhorting, and teaching (4:1–2). But this teaching is not done by any divine revelation outside of Scripture; rather, this is done by the written Word of God, as Paul already stated in 3:16.
Then, Paul again declares what will happen in the latter days and, unfortunately, what Paul described has, indeed, finally happened (vv. 3–4). Paul states that a day will come when believers will no longer be able to endure the sound doctrine (v. 3). What is sound doctrine? In contrast to the doctrines of demons (I Tim. 4:1), which are doctrines based upon the experiential and the supernatural which go beyond that which is written, sound doctrine is that which is based upon and comes from the sacred writings. Indeed, we are living in a day when the majority of believers in our churches simply cannot endure sound doctrine. In place of expository teaching of the Word, there are, instead, “Christian amusements parks” and Christian talk shows that carry little, if any, doctrinal substance. A speaker who causes people to become hysterical or act like animals or fall down, can fill up entire stadiums with thousands upon thousands of people who will eventually be asked to empty their pockets for the offering. But one who comes to expound the Word of God, to impart an understanding of the Scriptures and sound doctrine, will draw a relatively tiny audience. Indeed, the time and day have arrived when men cannot endure sound doctrine. How will they try to meet their spiritual needs? Paul goes on to explain that they will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts. In other words, they will pursue teachers who will tell them what they want to hear and not what they really need to hear (being persecuted for godly living is not something believers want to hear about); they will pursue teachers who will promise them supernatural experiences; they will pursue teachers who will promise them health and wealth by merely using a formula; teachers who promise materialism in a spiritually-wrapped package are the ones they will pursue. But they will strongly avoid having to sit through in-depth teaching of the Word of God. Indeed, that day has finally arrived. Most mega-churches today were not built up through expository teaching, but through entertainment. Church programs are based on what people want, not what they need. Paul tells us the result of not enduring sound doctrine and pursuing false teachers (v. 4): first, they will turn away their ears from the truth, and second, they will turn aside unto fables. Fables are teachings and doctrines outside of Scripture. As seen earlier, Peter said he did not follow cunningly devised fables, because what he was teaching and preaching was based upon the written Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit. The reason Timothy will not be swept aside to follow fables is because he is basing his entire life, teaching, and ministry on the sacred writings. Those who go beyond the things which are written will end up following after fables. Again, fables are teachings that are not found in Scripture, and therefore either originate with man or with the demonic world, and thereby become doctrines of demons. Fables are the false postulations of experiences and actions that are found nowhere in Scripture.
Returning to our original passage, the exhortation in Revelation 3:18–20 is a call to salvation. First, they are urged to seek spiritual wealth in the Messiah. Secondly, because they are spiritually naked, they are urged to receive the white garments of salvation from Jesus. Throughout the book of Revelation the white garments represent and symbolize salvation. In Revelation 3:4 these garments are on people considered worthy; in 3:5 they are coupled with not being blotted out of the Book of Life; in 6:11 they are seen as the garments of the saints in heaven; in Revelation 7:9, 13, and 14, the garments are white because they have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. The key problem in the Laodicean church is that they are spiritually naked and lack salvation. Therefore, they are urged to appropriate it from Jesus. Thirdly, because they are spiritually blinded, they are urged to seek Messiah’s eye salve so that they can begin to see spiritually. There is no indication that this is a saved church. While all the other churches have had at least a small saved element in it, this church has none whatsoever. Hence, there is a complete absence of commendation for it.
Verse 20 emphasizes that the Messiah is outside this church, knocking. Jesus is not in any way within this church, for it is a totally unsaved church. The exhortation is to any individual in the apostate church to hear Messiah’s voice and open his heart to Him, and then Messiah will enter and they will have fellowship. It is another exhortation to salvation.
The promise is in verses 21–22. The one who overcomes the problem of apostasy and accepts Jesus is promised a share in the Messianic Kingdom.
What are the responsibilities of believers in the face of apostasy? First, believers are not to fellowship with apostates. On this point there has been too much extremism. It must be kept in mind that an apostate is not merely an unbeliever, nor is he merely a member of an apostate church. The apostate is one who is actively propagating within the local church the destructive denials of the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the deity of the Son, and the Second Coming. The apostates about whom the Bible talks are not mere unbelievers, but are teachers of apostate doctrines who propagate their destructive denials. That the believer is not to fellowship with such an individual is spelled out in II John 7–11:
For many deceivers are gone forth into the world, even they that confess not that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Look to yourselves, that ye lose not the things which we have wrought, but that ye receive a full reward. Whosoever goes onward and abides not in the teaching of Christ; has not God: he that abides in the teaching, the same has both the Father and the Son. If any one comes unto you, and brings not this teaching, receive him not into your house, and give him no greeting: for he that gives him greeting partakes in his evil works.
The second obligation concerns the apostate that is in the local church. If a member is found proclaiming a destructive denial, he is to be ousted from the church, as Paul stated in Galatians 1:8–9:
But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema. As we have said before, so say I now again, if any man preaches unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema.
The third area of responsibility concerns the situation where apostates are in control of the leadership of the church and cannot be ousted. What should a believer do in this case? The obligation here is separation from the church, for he is to be separated from apostasy. In II Timothy 3:5, after characterizing apostates as having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof, Timothy is admonished: from these also turn away. Timothy was urged to separate himself from such apostasy.
A more extended treatment of this problem is found in II Corinthians 6:14–7:1:
Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers: for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? or what communion has light with darkness? And what concord has Christ with Belial? or what portion has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has a temple of God with idols? for we are a temple of the living God; even as God said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; And I will receive you, And will be to you a Father, And ye shall be to me sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
This is an important passage, for it admonishes the believer to separate himself from the apostates and not to continue to worship with them in the assembly. Verse 14a has usually been used to refer to marriage between believers and unbelievers, but the context is dealing with a worship situation and not marriage. Worshiping with unbelievers is considered an unequal yoke.
Verses 14b–16a provide the reasons why this is an unequal yoke. It must be kept in mind that this is in a context of worship. Five questions are asked which, in the Greek, demand negative answers. Five terms are given around which the reasons revolve: fellowship, communion, concord, portion, and agreement. There can be no fellowship between unrighteousness and righteousness. Believers are a part of righteousness, whereas unbelievers are a part of iniquity, and there can be no fellowship between the two in the same church. Furthermore, there is no communion between light and darkness. Believers are of the light, but unbelievers are of the darkness. There is no common ground between the two. There can be no concord between Messiah and Satan. They have two separate areas of operation. They have two distinct programs. The believer is part of Messiah’s program, while the unbeliever is part of Satan’s program. The believer has no portion with unbelievers. One is destined for Heaven and the other is destined for Hell. Their two destinies are very different and in worship mutually exclusive. Finally, there is no agreement between the Temple of God and the temple of an idol. The believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but the unbeliever is not. Because there is no fellowship, communion, concord, portion, or agreement in the area of worship, worshiping with an unbeliever is an unequal yoke.
In verse 16b, Paul gives the basis for separation, that is, that we are the temple of God. Since we are the Temple of God, we are not to place ourselves in a worship situation with unbelievers.
In 17a, the command of separation involves three phrases: First, come ye out from among them; second, be ye separate; and third, touch no unclean thing.
In verses 17b–18, a promise is given to those who comply and separate themselves. Just as there are three phrases of separation, there are three statements of promises for those who obey: First, I will receive you; second, I will be to you a Father; and third, you will be to me sons and daughters.
In 7:1 the passage concludes, urging the believer, on the basis of these promises, to follow through on his separation from apostasy where necessary.