How do you reconcile Matthew 16:18b with Revelation 3:16?
Matthew 16:18b reads, “On this rock [Jesus Christ] I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Revelation 3:16 states, “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth.” I believe you are suggesting a discrepancy here: the Matthew passage says that nothing, not even Hell itself, will destroy the church; but the Revelation passage indicates that Christ will spew (vomit) the church “out of [His] mouth,” implying destruction or total rejection.
The Matthew passage is self-explanatory. In contrast to Christ’s loving the church and giving Himself for it, the Devil and his followers have gone about doing everything they can to destroy the people of God. Yet the Enemy will not win this battle.
But the Revelation passage probably requires more concentration. Chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation consist of letters to seven actual churches in Asia Minor at the time of John. These were not the only churches in existence at that time. So why were they divinely picked for inclusion in Scripture in this way? Many, if not most, Bible scholars believe that the churches, picked chronologically, represent distinct chronological periods through the centuries of church history and that the problems the churches in Asia Minor faced represented the major dilemmas of each period.
We must be careful not to take these parallels too far. Bible scholars of our theological persuasion believe we are currently in the last period represented by the last church mentioned in Revelation 3, Laodicea. But does that mean that every church today must be Laodicean in its characteristics? After all, did every church in earlier periods mirror its respective general period? We know that throughout church history God has had His faithful remnant, though often very few in number (such as in the Dark Ages).
So while the churches of Asia Minor in Revelation have parallels in the periods of church history, there are some limits. I like to think of these parallels also in terms of characteristics that any church in any age must watch out for and shun, or embrace, rather than seeing them as representing mere periods of time. In other words, we must heed all seven messages to the seven churches, and that has been true ever since John wrote the book of Revelation. It isn’t hard to see our time of 2001 as the great “Laodicean” period, particularly in our Western culture. The actual local church of Laodicea in Revelation was a wealthy church in a wealthy city. The church members’ attitude was one of self-sufficiency, typical of today’s attitude (Revelation 3:17). They thought they were perfect, but there was nothing to commend them for. Their wealth didn’t help them spiritually.
The Bible doesn’t state that the Laodicean church people were truly saved. Chances are that there was quite a mixture. Goats in with the sheep has been a plague through time. A popular Bible teacher startled his audience some time ago by saying that up to 80 percent of the people in the average Bible-preaching church today are not truly regenerated people. This percentage may vary quite a bit from church to church, but there is a certain amount of truth to his observation. It is this matter of people professing without possessing true salvation that contributes to Christ’s vomiting the Laodicean church out of His mouth (totally rejecting the witness of merely professing people).
It is interesting to read about the geographical aspects of Laodicea. Christ had the perfect illustration for the Laodiceans to understand when He used “lukewarm.” The Laodiceans obtained their water from two sources: one was ice cold—melted snow from the mountain; the other was from a hot spring. By the time either source arrived in Laodicea, the water was lukewarm.
God hates counterfeit Christianity. Nevertheless, keep in mind that not all churches of the end times have to be this way; indeed, there would be no one for Christ to rapture if there were no true zealous believers on earth. Christ will never reject those who are truly His. However, the mere professing crowd will be left behind and go through the Tribulation. Also, verse 19 of Revelation 3 indicates that until the end of the Church Age there is opportunity to repent and to be “hot” for God. Churches and individuals are ordered to shun the lukewarm status, to consider Jesus, and to let Him come in (v. 20). Even as the Church Age comes to a close, there will be a faithful remnant who, because of Christ, will be a part of the fulfillment of Matthew 16:18.
Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.