CHAPTER THREE - LAODICEA

REVELATION CHAPTER THREE - LAODICEA

Reference Scriptures and Links:

 

 

LAODICEA has the grim distinction of being the only Church of which Jesus Christ has nothing good to say.

 

In the ancient world there were at least six cities called Laodicea and this one was called Laodicea on the Lycus to distinguish it from the others. It was founded about 250 BC by Antiochus of Syria and was named after his wife Laodice.

 

Its importance was due entirely to its position. The road from Ephesus to the east and to Syria was the most important in Asia. It began at the coast at Ephesus and it had to find a way to climb up to the central plateau 8,500 feet up. It set out along the valley of the River Maeander until it reached what were known as the Gates of Phrygia. Beyond this point lay a broad valley where Lydia, Phrygia and Caria met. The Maeander entered that valley by a narrow, precipitous gorge through which no road could pass. The road, therefore, detoured through the Lycus valley. In that valley Laodicea stood.

 

It was literally astride the great road to the east that went straight through Laodicea, entering by the Ephesian Gate and leaving by the Syrian Gate. That in itself would have been enough to make Laodicea one of the great commercial and strategic centers of the ancient world. Originally Laodicea had been a fortress; but it had the serious handicap that all its water supply had to come by underground aqueduct from springs no less than six miles away, a perilous situation for a town besieged. Two other roads passed through the gates of Laodicea, that from Pergamum and the Hermus Valley to Pisidia, Pamphylia, and the coast at Perga and that from eastern Caria to central and west Phrygia.

 

As Ramsay says: "It only needed peace to make Laodicea a great commercial and financial center." That peace came with the dominion of Rome. When the Roman peace gave it its opportunity it became, as Pliny called it, "a most distinguished city."

 

Laodicea had certain characteristics that have left their mark on the letter written to it.

 

  1. It was a great banking and financial center. When Cicero was travelling in Asia Minor it was at Laodicea that he cashed his letters of credit. It was one of the wealthiest cities in the world. In AD 61 it was devastated by an earthquake; but so rich and independent were its citizens that they refused any help from the Roman government and out of their own resources rebuilt their city. Tacitus writes: "One of the most famous cities of Asia, Laodicea, was in that same year overthrown by an earthquake and without any relief from us recovered itself by its own resources" (Tacitus: Annals 14: 27). No wonder that Laodicea could boast that it was rich and had amassed wealth and had need of nothing. It was so wealthy that it did not even need God.
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  3. It was a great center of clothing manufacture. The sheep that grazed round Laodicea were famous for their soft, violet-black, glossy wool. It mass-produced cheap outer garments. It was specially connected with a tunic called the trimira, so much so, indeed, that it was sometimes called Trimitaria. Laodicea was so proud of the garments it produced that it never realized it was naked in the sight of God.
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  5. It was a very considerable medical center. Thirteen miles to the west, between Laodicea and the Gate of Phrygia, stood the temple of the Carlan god Men. At one time that temple was the social, administrative and commercial center of the whole area. Until less than a hundred years ago great markets were regularly held on its site. In particular the temple was the center of a medical school that was transferred to Laodicea itself. So famous were its doctors that the names of some appear on the coins of Laodicea. Two of them were called Zeuxis and Alexander Philalethes. This medical school was famous for two things throughout the world, ointment for the ear and ointment for the eyes. The Bible speaks of eye-salve. Laodicea was so conscious of its medical skill in the care of the eyes that it never realized that it was spiritually blind. The words of Jesus Christ arise directly from the prosperity and the skill in which Laodicea took so much pride and which had in the minds of its citizens, and even of its Church, eliminated the need for God.
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  7. We add a final fact about Laodicea. It was in an area where there was a very large Jewish population. So many Jews had emigrated here that the Rabbis harangued against the Jews who sought the wines and baths of Phrygia. In 62 BC Flaccus, the governor of the province, became alarmed at the amount of currency which the Jews were exporting in payment of the Temple tax which every male Jew paid and put an embargo on the export of currency. The result was that twenty pounds weight of gold was seized as contraband in Laodicea and one hundred pounds in Apameia in Phrygia. That amount of gold would be equal to 15,000 silver drachmae. The Jewish Temple tax amounted to half a shekel, which was equal to two drachmae. This means that in the district there were at least 7,500 male Jews. In Hierapolis, six miles away from Laodicea, there was a "Congregation of Jews" which had power to levy and to retain fines, and an archive office where Jewish legal documents were specially kept. There can have been few areas where the Jews were wealthier and more influential.

 

 

CHAPTER THREE - LAODICEA

3:14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;

 

Of all the seven Churches that of Laodicea is most condemned. There are not one single redeeming feature. When Paul was writing to the neighboring Church of Colossae. He says sternly: "Say to Archippus. See that you fulfil the ministry which you have received in the Lord" (Colossians 4:17). It would seem that Archippus was somehow failing in his duty. This was some thirty years before the Book of Revelation was written; but it may be that as long ago as that, the rot had set in the Church in Laodicea and an unsatisfactory ministry had sown the seeds of degeneration.

 

Like all the letters it begins with a series of great titles of Jesus Christ.

 

He is the Amen. This is a strange title and may go back to either of two origins.

  1. In Isaiah 65:16 God is called the God of truth; but in the Hebrew he is called the God of Amen. Amen is the word that is often put at the end of a solemn statement in order to guarantee its truth. If God is the God of Amen, he is utterly to be relied upon. This would mean that Jesus Christ is the One whose promises are true beyond all doubt.
  2. In John's gospel Jesus' statements often begin: "Truly, truly, I say to you" (e.g. John 1:51; 3:3, 5, 11). The Greek for truly is Amen. It is possible that when Jesus Christ is called the Amen it is a reminiscence of his own way of speaking. The meaning would be the same, Jesus is one whose promises can be relied upon.

 

He is the witness on whom we can rely and who is true. Trench points out that a witness must satisfy three essential conditions.

    1. He must have seen with his own eyes that of which he tells.
    2. He must be absolutely honest, so that he repeats with accuracy that which he has heard and seen.
    3. He must have the ability to tell what he has to say, so that his witness may make its true impression on those who hear.

 

Jesus Christ perfectly satisfied these conditions. He can tell of God, because he came from him. We can rely on his words for he is the Amen. He is able to tell his message, for never did man speak as he did.

 

Here is a troublesome spot for some versions of the Bible such as the NASB. There this is rendered that He is the beginning of God's creation. (To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:) This phrase, as it stands in English, is ambiguous. It could mean, either, that Jesus was the first person to be created or that he began the process of creation.

 

"The beginning of the creation of God." Notice how the preposition "of" confuses things. This is not the beginning of the creation of God, in the sense that Jesus Christ is an object. He is not the first thing God made; He is the subject. The Jehovah Witnesses uses this verse to "prove" that Jesus Christ is creation of God just like we are. Here the Jehovah Witness finishes his theology and goes to hell with it because the deity of Jesus is denied, His virgin birth is denied, His death was merely a swoon and His resurrection a recovery from His fainting! The sentence is not that Jesus Christ is the first thing that God created. The sentence is that Jesus Christ is the Beginning; He is the first of whatever God does. The creation is the object, not Jesus Christ.

 

Jehovah Witnesses teach that Jesus Christ is a "created god," and the first god that God created! This is why Jehovah Witnesses distinguish between God the Father, as the one true God Jehovah, and Jesus Christ as "a god" whom He created. This is a matter of willful ignorance, and a deliberate rejection of plain English. Because of heart trouble Jehovah Witnesses can't make the connection to Colossians 1:15-18 which explains this verse thoroughly - "Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence."

 

The connection of the Son with creation is frequently made in the New Testament. John begins his gospel by saying of the Word: "All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made" (John 1:3). "In him," says Paul, "all things were created" (Colossians 1:15,18). The insistence on the Son's part in creation was due to the heretics who explained sin and disease by saying that the world had been created by a false and inferior god. It is the Christian insistence that this world is God's creation and that its sin and sorrow are not his fault, but are caused by the disobedience of men. As the Christian sees it, the God of creation and the God of redemption are one and the same.

3:15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

 

 

The condemnation of Laodicea begins with a picture of almost crude vividness; because the Laodiceans are neither cold nor hot, they have about them a kind of nauseating quality, which will make Jesus Christ vomit them out of his mouth.

 

The exact meaning of the words is to be noted. Cold can mean cold to the point of freezing. There is the cold north wind that makes the ice congeal upon the waters. Hot it means hot to boiling point.

 

Here is something to make us think: the last church professes orthodoxy while going into apostasy. The last church professes belief in the fundamentals of the faith, while it sides with the world. It is a chameleon church: it hunts with the hounds and runs with the hares: it fights on both sides at one time. It is a rotten church: it is not hot - on fire for God: and, it is not cold apostate modernism. It is dead-orthodox lukewarm close enough to God to be warmed by the Bible, and far enough away to be chilled by the world. (You don't have to freeze in formalism just because you're not frying in fanaticism. This church is right in the middle.)

 

"I would thou wert cold or hot." God is an extremist. God is not a synthesized conservative, nor a coordinated integrationist, and He does not operate in the "co-operative adjustment of unequal values to a true and righteous balance of relative truths." (This is how can we recognize New Ageisms!) Hot or cold, brother! Up or down, heaven or hell, black or white, lost or saved! He says, "I would that you wert cold or hot," and that's God's directive will about the matter.

 

The one attitude that Jesus Christ strongly condemns is indifference. It has been said that an author can write a good biography if he loves his subject or hates him but not if he is coldly indifferent. Of all things, indifference is the hardest to combat. The problem of modern evangelism is not hostility to Christianity; it would be better if it were so. The problem is that to so many Christians and the Church have ceased to have any relevance and men regard them with complete indifference. This indifference can be broken down only by the actual demonstration (WHO IS TO DO THIS? Me? You? Who?) that Christianity is a power to make life strong and a grace to make life beautiful.

 

The one impossible attitude to Christianity is neutrality. Jesus Christ works through men; and the man who remains completely detached in his attitude to him has by that very fact refused to undertake the work that is the divine purpose for him. The man who will not submit to Christ has necessarily resisted him.

 

Hard as it may sound, the meaning of this terrible threat of Jesus Christ is that it is better not even to start on the Christian way than to start and then to drift into a conventional and meaningless Christianity. The fire must be kept burning. Keep us HOT, Dear Lord!

3:16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

 

 

God says, "You make me sick." This is why He is sick of Laodicea. Tremendous material assets mark this last church. It is bragging about its properties, holdings, how much the property is worth, how much the offerings are, how many people were in attendance, how much the missionary offering was raised. It says, "I am increased with goods, and have need of nothing." But God says, "You are wretched, you're miserable, you're poor, you're blind, and you're naked." They are burdened with money instead of debt.

 

Things that are tepid often have a nauseating effect. Hot food and cold food can both be appetizing, but tepid food will often make the stomach turn. Directly opposite Laodicea, on the other bank of the Lycus, and in full view, stood Hierapolis, famous for its hot mineral springs. Often hot mineral springs are nauseating in their taste and make the person who drinks them want to be physically sick. That is the way in which the Church at Laodicea affected Jesus Christ.

 

In Revelation 3:16 there is a threat that God will "spue" somebody out of His mouth. The Christian is not in God's stomach; the Christian could not be "spit out." The Christian is part of Jesus Christ in this age - in 1 Corinthians 12 we are told that we are part of His body. In Ephesians 5 we are told that we are "bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh."

 

Therefore, these passages seem to have a different doctrinal application than to the day and "Age of Grace" in which we live. For this reason it is difficult if not downright dangerous to teach all of Revelation 1,2, and 3 as Christian doctrine for the Church Age. Although, doctrinally, these passages seem to be aimed at the local churches in the Great Tribulation, spiritually, they picture the course of the Church Age from the first coming of Jesus Christ to His Second Coming. Therefore, it would appear, doctrinally, that while Revelation 1,2, and 3 are primarily Tribulation passages and this would put them between the 8-inch and the 10-inch mark on our chart; .

 

Now, look at our chart. Between the cross at the 2-inch mark and the Rapture at the 8-inch mark, is the Church Age. Between the 8-inch mark and the 10-inch mark is the seven year Tribulation. Between the 10-inch mark and the 12-inch mark is the one-thousand year reign of Christ on this earth.

 

John in the Spirit

On the Lordís Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Church Age Tribulation Millennium

 

As we have said in Chapter One notes, if we keep this chart before us and it will help place a lot of verses in the "right" place for us.

 

3:17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:

 

 

The tragedy of Laodicea was that it was convinced of its own wealth and blind to its own poverty. Humanly speaking, anyone would say that there was not a more prosperous town in Asia Minor. Spiritually speaking, Jesus Christ declares that there was not a more poverty-stricken community.

 

3:18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.

 

 

Laodicea prided itself on three things; and each is taken in turn and shown at its true value.

 

It prided itself on its financial wealth. It was rich and had acquired wealth and had need of nothing--so it thought. Jesus Christ advises Laodicea to buy gold refined in the fire. It may be that gold tried in the fire stands for faith for it is thus that Peter describes faith (1 Peter 1:7). Wealth can do much but there are things that it can never do. It cannot buy happiness nor give a man health either of body or of mind; it cannot bring comfort in sorrow or fellowship in loneliness. If all that a man has to meet life with is wealth, he is poor indeed. But if a man has a faith tried and refined in the crucible of experience, there is nothing that he cannot face; and he is rich indeed.

 

Laodicea prided itself on its clothing trade. The garments made there were famous over the entire world, and the wool of the sheep of Laodicea was a luxury article that all men knew. But, says Jesus Christ, Laodicea is spiritually naked; if it wants really to be clothed it must come to him. Jesus Christ speaks of "the shame of the nakedness of Laodicea."

 

This would mean even more in the ancient world than now. In the ancient world to be stripped naked was the worst humiliation. It was thus that Hanum treated the servants of David (2 Samuel 10:4). The threat to Egypt is that Assyria will lead her people naked and barefoot (Isaiah 20:4). It was Ezekiel's threat to Israel that her enemies would strip her of her clothes (Ezekiel 16:37 - 39; 23:26 - 29; cp. Hosea 2:3,9; Micah 1:8,11). God's threat passed on by Nahum to the disobedient people was "I will let nations look on your nakedness, and on your kingdoms shame" (Nahum 3:5). On the other hand, to be clothed in fine raiment was the greatest honor. Pharaoh honored Joseph by clothing him in vestures of fine linen (Genesis 41:42). Daniel is clothed in purple by Belshazzar (Daniel 5:29). The royal apparel is for the man whom the king honors (Esther 6:6 - 11). When the prodigal son returns, it is the best robe that is put upon him (Luke 15:22).

 

Laodicea prides itself on the magnificent garments it produces but spiritually it is naked and nakedness is shame. Jesus Christ urges it to buy white raiment from him. This may well stand for the beauties of life and character that only the grace of Christ can give. There is little point in a man adorning his body, if he has nothing to adorn his soul. Not all the clothes in the world will beautify a person whose nature is twisted and whose character is ugly.

 

Laodicea prided itself on its famous eye-salve; but the facts of the case show that it was blind to its own poverty and nakedness. Trench says: "The beginning of all true amendment is to see ourselves as we are." All eye-salves in the ancient world caused the eyes to smart at their first application, and Laodicea had no wish to see itself as it was. "Anoint thine eyes with eyesalve that thou mayest see." See Ecclesiastes 9:8, John 9:8, 2 Corinthians 5:3.

 

3:19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

 

 

Verse 19 is one whose teaching runs throughout Scripture. "I rebuke and chasten all those whom I love." There is a very lovely thing about the way this is put. It is a quotation from Proverbs 3:12.

 

Let us first take the word rebuke. The most vivid example of this kind of rebuke is the way in which Nathan opened David's eyes to his sin (2 Samuel 12:1 - 14). The rebuke of God is not so much punishment as illumination.

 

Let us see how the idea of discipline runs through the Bible. It is very characteristic of the teaching of Proverbs. (Proverbs 13: 24; 23:13 - 14; 27:6; 29:15,17). Others: (Psalm 94:12; Job 5:17;1 Corinthians 11:32; Hebrews 11:6 - 8).

 

It is, in fact, God's final punishment to leave a man alone. "Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone" (Hosea 4: 17).

As Trench has it: "The great Master-builder squares and polishes with many strokes of the chisel and hammer the stones which shall find a place at last in the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem. It is the crushed grape, and not the untouched, from which the costly liquor distils."

 

There is no surer way of allowing a child to end in ruin than to allow him to do, as he likes. It is a fact of life that the best athlete and the finest scholar receive the most demanding training. The discipline of God is not something that we should resent, but something for which we should be devoutly thankful.

3:20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

 

 

In verse 20 we have one of the most famous pictures of Jesus in the whole New Testament. "Behold," says Jesus Christ, "I stand at the door and knock." Some would spiritualize this verse and apply it to a soul winning situation. This verse is NOT for a lost man but for a saved man inside of a church. The picture of Jesus standing at the door and knocking has been derived from two different sources.

 

1. It has been taken as a warning that the end is near, and that the Coming of Christ is at hand. The Christian must be ready to open whenever he hears his Lord knocking (Luke 12:36). When the signs come, the Christian will know that the last time is near, even at the doors (Mark 13:29; Matthew 24:33). The Christian must live well and live in love because the judge is standing at the doors (James 5:9). It is true that the New Testament uses this picture to express the imminence of the coming of Christ. If that is the picture here, this phrase contains a warning and tells men to have a care, for Jesus Christ the Judge and King is at the door.

 

At the end of the Church Age Christ is outside the door, and the church has slammed the door on Him. If any individual in that church hears His voice and opens the door, Christ will come in to that particular man and have fellowship with that particular man.

 

This is the only place in the Bible where the local church is spoken of as a literal building. The only place in the Bible where the local church is spoken of as a building, the congregation has Jesus Christ shut outside, the door locked, and unless a man opens the door from the inside, He can't get in.

 

2. We cannot say that that meaning is impossible and yet it does not seem to fit the context entirely, for the atmosphere of the passage is warning and love. It may be that Christ is expressing an appeal as the lover of the souls of men. The origin of the passage is likely to be in Solomon's Song when the lover stands at the door of his beloved and pleads with her to open. "Hark! My beloved is knocking. Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, perfect one" (Solomon's Song 5:2-6). Here is Christ the lover knocking at the door of the church seeking the hearts of men. And in this picture we see certain great truths of the Christian religion.

 

We see the pleading of Christ. He stands at the door of HIS church and knocks. The unique new fact that Christianity brought into this world is that God is the seeker of men. No other religion has the vision of a seeking God.

 

In his book Out of Nazareth Donald Baillie cites three witnesses to the uniqueness of this conception. Montefiore, the great Jewish scholar, said that the one thing which no Jewish prophet or Rabbi ever conceived of is the "conception of God actually going out in quest of sinful men, who were not seeking him, but who were turned away from him."

 

We see the offer of Christ - "I will come in and sup with him." It was the meal that Christ would share with the man who answered his knock, no hurried meal, but that where people lingered in fellowship. If a man will open the door. Jesus Christ will come in and linger long with him. If Christ knocks on the door of the church, a man must answer the knock by opening the door - while Christ seeks He does not enter uninvited!

 

We see human responsibility. Christ knocks and a man can answer or refuse to answer. Christ does not break in; he must be invited in. Even on the Emmaus road, "He appeared to be going further" (Luke 24: 28). Holman Hunt was right when in his famous picture The Light of the Worm he painted the door of the human heart with no handle on the outside, for it can be opened only from within. As Trench has it: "Every man is lord of the house of his own heart; it is his fortress; he must open the gates of it," and he has "the mournful prerogative and privilege of refusing to open." The man who refuses to open is "blindly at strife with his own blessedness." He is a "miserable conqueror."

 

Christ pleads and offers; but it is all to no avail if a man will not open the door of his heart and then the door of his church.

 

3:21 - 22 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

 

 

As we have said before, the term "to him that overcometh" may be applied to those who are saved in the Tribulation. Spiritually, the promise of Jesus Christ is that the victor will sit with him in his own victorious throne. We will get the picture right if we remember that the eastern throne was more like a couch than a single seat. The victor in life will share the throne of the victorious Christ.

 

Every letter finishes with the words: "Let him who has an ear hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches." This saying does two things.

 

  1. It individualizes the message of the letters. It says to every man: "This means you." So often we listen to a message that comes through a preacher and apply it to everyone but ourselves. In our heart of hearts we believe that the stern words cannot possibly be meant for us and that the promises are too good to be true for us. This phrase says to every one of us: "All these things are meant for you.
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  3. It generalizes the message of the letters. It means that their message was not confined to the people in the seven Churches nineteen hundred years ago, but that through them the Spirit is speaking to every man in every generation. These letters have been carefully contrasted to actual existing conditions of the local churches to which they were addressed; but their message is not local and temporary. It is eternal, in them the Spirit spoke to the saints throughout the ages and now He speaks them to us.

 

 

 

STUDY QUESTIONS

 

  1. Can you think of a time when you drank something lukewarm that was supposed to be hot? How did it taste? How did you react?
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  3. What characteristics describe a lukewarm church today?
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  5. Why had God rather us to be hot or cold rather than lukewarm?
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  7. Why did Christ call this church wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked if they were wealthy?
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  9. What would it take for this church to get out of their miserable state?
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  11. What factors might have enabled this church to become lukewarm in the in first place?
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  13. In what ways is your current level of wealth affecting your spiritual condition?
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  15. What areas of your relationship with God are easy to neglect?
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  17. How can you prevent your faith from becoming lukewarm?
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  19. Think for a moment, "How can I re-ignite my zeal for God?"
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  21. Why is it easier to rely on ourselves and on our possessions than on God?
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  23. In what ways does this letter to the church of Laodicea speak to Grace Fellowship UMC?

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