MESSAGE TO LAODICEA
Laodicea was founded by the Seleucid King Antiochus II in the third century B.C. It was named after his wife, Laodice (261-256 B.C.). The riches of the city came from its location, for it was situated on one of the great Asian trade routes. It was a very prosperous city, and thus, a banking center for many traders who passed through the city. After the great earthquake of A.D. 60, the banking firms were so wealthy that they financed the rebuilding of the city. In the rebuilding of the city, the banks even refused to receive funding from Nero. As a result of its wealth, it developed a culture of aristocracy and a social class that was based on wealth. There was a spirit of self-sufficiency among the residents since they trusted in their great wealth. Probably no other church of the seven that Jesus addressed, better represents the business and social environment of the modern urban church.
The Lycus Valley was pasture land for a black sheep that produced a glossy black wool, from which stylish coats and carpets were made. The city became known for this wool and the garments of the black wool industry. There was also a medical school in the city, as well as an industry for the manufacture of collyrium, a well-known eye salve of the times.
The unfortunate thing about Laodicea’s location was that there was no sufficient local water supply within the city. Water was thus channeled to the city from hot springs some distance south of the city. But because of the heat of the water at its source, it arrived in the city lukewarm, and thus, it still had to be cooled in order to be consumed.
Since the society was one of business and banking, there was a spirit of compromise within the culture that was necessary for business. As in today’s urban centers, a great deal of time had to be spent in being successful in one’s business. In some cases, cities are so large together that surviving within them as a Christian is challenging. In the case of Laodicea, the competitive business culture of the city led the Christians into a spiritual indifference that labelled them to be the “lukewarm church.” As a result of their little focus on spiritual things, the disciples of the area manifested indifference in reference to their faith. The result was the eventual disappearance of the church from the area. The disappearance of the church was as the history of the city. The ancient city of Laodicea was eventually abandoned.
A. Description of the Christ:
Jesus’ introduction of Himself to the lukewarm Laodicean disciples is meant to remind them of who He is. If they would recall the One after whom they were originally called, then they should be shocked into remembering that this is not “sweet Jesus, meek and mild.” This was their Creator, the One before whom all men will eventually give account for the works done in the body, whether good or bad (2 Co 5:10). This is the One who will eventually make the final pronouncement to the apathetic, “Depart from Me you cursed into everlasting fire that is prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt 25:41). These spiritually indifferent disciples needed to be shocked out of their lukewarmness and into the reality that King Jesus is not playing religious games.
1. Jesus is the revealed “truth.” Isaiah identified God as “the God of truth” (Is 65:16). It was indeed appropriate, therefore, for Jesus to make the statement during His ministry, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). “Jesus said to those Jews who believed in Him … you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:31,32). What He was saying was that they would know Him, and it would be Him who would set them free.
Contrary to the thinking of many, Jesus was not talking about a body of doctrine that they would know. Knowing “the Truth” must be interpreted in the context of what John wrote at the very beginning of his dissertation to explain who Jesus was:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:1,14).
Throughout His ministry, it was the work of Jesus to explain that He was “the Truth,” “the Word” that was revealed to man. Jesus was the revelation of “the God of truth.” To know “the Truth” was to know “the Word.” And to know the Word, was to know a personality, not an outline of doctrine on a piece of paper.
When Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9), He was saying that in person He was the revelation of the true God of heaven. It is for this reason, therefore, that any religionist who does not recognize Jesus as the Word (the Truth) who reveals the true God, has simply created a god after his own imagination. When Jesus addressed the Laodicean disciples, He claimed to be the true revelation of the God of heaven (Rv 3:14). In order to deliver the Laodicean Christians out of the stupor of their lukewarmness, they had to again realize that the One they claimed to follow was the revelation of the God of all things. Their lukewarmness resulted from their “lukewarm” understanding of who Jesus really was.
The Hebrew word for the Greek word that is translated “Amen” means “truth.” It is a Hebrew word that was not literally translated into the Greek Septuagint, and then into English. When the Jews heard the cry, “Amen,” they understood that what an individual was saying was, “Truth.” In the same sense, the English word “Amen” should convey the same meaning when one says “Amen” to a statement with which one agrees to be “truth.” Jesus is the Truth who will set us free and keep us free. If we lose sight of who He is, then our flame will flicker out.
2. Jesus was the origin of creation. Jesus is “the ruler of the creation of God” (Rv 3:14). In other words, when creation began, it was the Son of the Godhead who began and completed all creation.
For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him (Cl 1:16).
Because He was the Creator, Jesus was the one who had all the rights of a firstborn son. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Cl 1:15). He was not a creation of God, but was one with God. He was the origin of all that now exists. And since He created us, He took ownership of our existence through incarnation. He emptied Himself of being on a equality with the Godhead in order to come for us (Ph 2:5-11).
We must leave a note here for those interpreters who have somehow twisted the Revelation 3:14 statement into some fantasy that Jesus was a created being of God. This interpretation was based on a weak translation of Revelation 3:14. Some versions translated the verse in a manner that somewhat indicated that Jesus was “the beginning” of the creation of God. This translation gave the impression that Jesus was first created, and then the rest of the material world was created.
If Jesus were a created being, then Paul’s statement of 1 Timothy 2:5 means nothing: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” If Jesus were a creation as any man, then there would be no mediatorship between created man of the material world and God who is spirit (Jn 4:24). He would be no greater than any other man who was created, and thus, He could not function as a mediator between that which is spirit and that which is material. That which is material cannot mediate on its own behalf. If man, who is material and mortal, could mediate on his own behalf, then why would we need Jesus, if He too were only mortal and material? If a material and mortal mediator would do, then any other good mortal and material created man would do, maybe Abraham, or Isaiah, or Paul. But to create from dust a mediator between Deity and dust is simply the manifestation of biblically challenged interpreters.
B. Pronouncement of judgment:
The condemnation of the disciples in Laodicea is harsh. The severity of the judgment portrays a fellowship of Christians who seem to be past repentance, though a plea is made by Jesus to “be zealous and repent” (Rv 3:19). Whether the stark rebuke of this message generated repentance, we do not know. What is important to understand is that Jesus picked out these disciples as an opportunity to manifest His condemnation of lukewarmness that so often affects so many members of the body. As we study through His message to these disciples, we must be on our knees in prayer to perceive, if perhaps, we too are of those to whom the message in directed.
It is as if Jesus were speaking to the normal metropolitan church today that is composed of those who have been lured into a world of materialism. Laodicea would be the example of the urban church that has laid itself in the tomb of mediocrity, but at the same time, claims to be the representation of the body of Christ in the community. This is a message that is seldom heard from the pulpits of pastoral prophets of urban churches. Even those churches that take pride in being doctrinal soundness will seldom turn to this message to the Laodicean Christians as a point of reference to define true discipleship. After all, if we can take pride in our doctrine, then what need is there to check our behavior with a faith that should be working through love. If our contribution is up, then why would we say anything to discourage the rich contributors. A great deal of pride in one’s doctrine will often lead one to overlook a great deal of lukewarmness.
1. “You are lukewarm”: It is true that the more wealthy one becomes, the more he is likely to fall into the sin of apathy in reference to spiritual matters. Since one’s focus and energy must be placed on the world in order to generate the wealth of the world, then one’s focus and energy are directed to the things of the world. They are thus directed away from Christ. For this reason Jesus stated,
No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth (Mt 6:24).
The lethargic Laodicea church is proof of this truth. Split loyalty will not work if one seeks to be a dedicated disciple. It is as Jesus said, “He who is not with Me is against Me. And he who does not gather with Me, scatters” (Lk 11:23). If one is not totally committed to Jesus, then he reserves some commitment for something of this world. “Half hearted” is never a term that can be used in reference to a disciple of Jesus. Jesus deserves more than half a heart. Our Bibles still say, “You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt 22:37).
The water that came from the mineral springs south of Laodicea served as the appropriate metaphor for disciples who had been stricken with the sin of lukewarmness. As one would spew forth the lukewarm mineral waters that were channelled into the city, so Jesus will do the same with the lukewarm Christian who is “channelled” to the final judgment. It is as someone said, “Lukewarm water will not take a steam locomotive to its destination, and neither will a lukewarm Christian reach his desired destination.”
The curse of lukewarmness is that one fails to perform for Jesus. One can create a religiosity that conforms to a life-style of mediocrity. God warned Israel that if the Israelites did not keep His word, the land would spew them out (See Lv 18:27,28; 20:22). The same could be said of those who are lukewarm in the body of Christ. They will be spewed out if they were not obedient. How this would happen in the lives of the disciples of Laodicea would be an illustration of what Paul said of some Christians who were wood, hay and straw.
Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will be manifested, for the day will declare it because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test each man’s work to determine what quality it is (1 Co 3:12,13).
The fire of persecution was about to burn away those disciples of Laodicea who were wood, hay and straw. It would refine those of gold, silver and precious stones. The persecution that was coming would snuff out the lukewarm disciples of Laodicea. The lukewarm would not endure the storm of tribulation that was bearing down on Christianity.
It often takes the fire of persecution to determine if one is a lukewarm disciple. If in the heat of persecution a disciple would fall from Jesus, then he knows that he was a “wood” disciple. If in the heat of trials, a disciple says, “Hey, I’m gone,” then he was a “hay” disciple. And if in the heat of the battle for faith a disciple withdraws, then he was a “straw” disciple.
When a culture of lukewarmness is established among a group of disciples, “Christianity” is redefined by the apathy of the members. And once this happens, it is very difficult to reverse this spiritual death. If a new convert would come into such a group, those who are sick with the sin of lukewarmness will intimidate such a one to identify with the culture of apathy of the majority. The curse of apathetic churchianity is in the fact that those who are caught in the culture do not believe that they are in danger of being spewed out. Lukewarmness has a tendency to make one comfortable and not conducive to repentance. If one believes that lukewarm disciples will be brought into eternal glory by grace, then he should study again what Jesus was about to do with the lukewarm disciples of Laodicea.
2. “I am rich”: Since wealth has a tendency to stymie spiritual growth, Jesus wants us to know that this is what has happened among the Christians of Laodicea. Though riches do not always detour the spiritual growth of the wealthy, wealth is a particular danger for which the rich must be cautious. They must always remember the good advice of the wealthy Christian who said, “It is easy for a good man to make money, but hard for money to make a good man.” The reason this is true is because of what the Holy Spirit said. “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and many foolish and harmful lusts that drown men in ruin and destruction” (1 Tm 6:9). The Laodicean disciples were drowning in ruin and destruction.
The problem with wealth is that it ofen leads one to obsess that which will not exist beyond wealth. “For the love of money is the root of all evils, by which some coveting after have strayed from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows” (1 Tm 6:10). And such seems to be the spiritual situation of the disciples in Laodicea. They took so much pride in their riches that their proud attitudes reaped this strong condemnation from the One they presumed to follow. They had forgotten what a wise person once said, “We grow rich, not by depositing money in a savings account, but by depositing the word of God in our hearts.” We must never forget, therefore, what someone wisely said, “A man is rich according to what he is, not according to what he has.”
It seems that the Laodicean disciples had forgotten the words of Jesus that He spoke during His earthly ministry: “Take heed and beware of all covetousness, for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things that he possesses” (Lk 12:15). Henry Ward Beecher wrote, “In this world, it is not what we take up, but what we give up, that makes us rich.” Beecher must have read Jesus. Or maybe he read the Holy Spirit through Solomon: “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold” (Pv 22:1).
In the case of the Laodicean Christians, it seems that they had forgotten the concept of Proverbs 22:2: “The rich and poor meet together. The Lord is the maker of them all.” In the eyes of God, there is no difference between the rich and poor. Though among men we would seek to exalt the rich above the poor, in looking down from God’s perspective, we are all still little men. The rich need to remember, “The poorest of all men is he who has nothing but money.” It was as if James were writing specifically to the rich Christians of Laodicea in the following words:
Come now you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches are corrupted and your garments are moth eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded. And their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped treasure together for the last days (Js 5:1-3). You have lived in pleasure on the earth and lived in a self-indulgent life. You have nourished your hearts as in a day of slaughter (Js 5:5).
No better commentary statement could have been written against the rich of Laodicea. We must keep in mind that these were Christians about whom both Jesus and James spoke. These were not those of the world. Riches had so corrupted the spirit of the Laodicean Christians that they were deserving of the harsh condemnation that came from both Jesus and James. They were deserving of such because Jesus loved them, and thus, wanted them to repent in order that they reign with Him in heavenly places. But at the time of writing, they were simply happy with reigning on earth through the pomp and prestige of their riches.
The judgment of Jesus is harsh in the statement: “But you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rv 3:17). This is the character that riches will produce. This is the outcome of greed. This is the description of Christians who have made money their god. Paul simply said to the rich, “Put to death your members that are on the earth … covetousness, which is idolatry” (Cl 3:5).
The road to repentance for a church of Laodiceans is difficult. They must put to death their idol god of riches. It is not that they must give themselves into poverty, but that they use their riches to the glory of God. This is behind the instructions of Paul in 1 Timothy 6:17-19. If one would find himself sitting among the “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,” then here is what the Holy Spirit would instruct:
Charge those who are rich in this world that they not be high-minded or trust in the uncertainty of riches, but in the living God who richly gives us all things to enjoy. Teach that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to share, laying up in store for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
Every rich person must consider his riches according to the meaning of what Jesus said in answer to the one who stated, “I will pull down my barns and build larger ones”:
“You fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be that you have provided?” So is he who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God (Lk 12:18-21).
The rich must always be cautious about this truth: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Lk 12:34). The Christians in Laodicea had become somewhat proud of their riches. They seem to be of the same attitude as the Ephraimites of Israel who puffed themselves up because of their riches. Hosea stated that they proclaimed the arrogant statement, “Surely I have become rich. I have found for myself wealth. In all my labors they will find no iniquity in me that would be sin” (Hs 12:8). This would be the proclamation of the rich disciples in Laodicea. But Jesus defined their sin to be their depraved character. Their character was “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rv 3:17). They should have been crying out as Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rm 7:24). But their pride would not allow them to make such a confession because they trusted in wealth.
We must notice that neither in Jesus’ call for repentance on the part of the rich Laodiceans, nor in any message of the Holy Spirit through the writers of the New Testament, that rich Christians must give themselves into poverty. The only call is that the rich Christians be willing to share (1 Tm 6:17,18). Some have been blessed with the gift to make money. Others have not. Christianity is not as communism, that is, we all must be financially equal. The problem with political communism is that everyone becomes poor, except for the rich ruling class.
The advantage of a rich brother who loves Jesus is that the church has the great opportunity of sending the gospel into all the world. The rich also have the opportunity to help others. Therefore, when we see the house of a rich man, we should be thinking that he should have built a bigger house. If he had built a bigger house, then the fathers of children who built the house would have received more money in wages to feed their children. They too could have built bigger houses for their children. We must dispel with this jealousy of rich brethren who are willing and generous to share by providing opportunities for employment. Their sharing is not in giving handouts. Their sharing is in providing the opportunity for fathers to have a job in order that they feed their children and pay their schools fees. We must never forget that handouts often destroy self-esteem, but handing out opportunities to working hands builds nations.
3. “I counsel you ….”: When one is selfishly blinded by his wealth, then he should listen carefully to this counsel of Jesus (Rv 3:18). The city took pride in its great banking that served many who traveled through the area. But Jesus said that instead of trusting in their banking system, they should “buy from Me gold refined in the fire” so that they would be spiritually rich (Rv 3:18). They should buy from Jesus white garments, instead of taking pride in the garments that they purchased from the local trade stores that were made of the fine black wool of the area. The garments from the trade stores would give the outer appearance of someone of status, but their being clothed in Jesus would give the presentation of a godly nature. They needed to remember that when they came out of the grave of baptism, that they “put on the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ep 4:24). They had dressed themselves with Christ (Gl 3:27).
Unfortunately, the Laodiceans allowed their spiritual clothing to be replaced with material clothing of the world, and thus, they revealed their naked spirituality. And in reference to the eye salve of the city, such would momentarily solve the problem of itching eyes. But the spiritual eye salve that Jesus provided would quench their itching spirit from following after the things of this world. The eye salve of Jesus would give them relief to stop lusting after wealth. It would give them the opportunity to see the world as it is. They would also be able to see God (Mt 5:8). It would give them the opportunity to see their true self, that they were “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rv 3:17).
C. Exhortation to repent:
“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (Rv 3:19). We find a commentary of this exhortation in Hebrews 12:
My son, do not despise the disciplining of the Lord, nor faint when you are rebuked by Him. For whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and scourges every son whom He receives (Hb 12:5,6; see Pv 3:11,12).
There is only one way to avoid the chastisement of the Lord. Jesus explains, “Therefore, be zealous and repent” (Rv 3:19). When one realizes that the Lord chastises those He loves, he must understand that the chastisement comes as a result of our falling from our faithfulness to Him. Therefore, in order not to be chastised, one should give all diligence to remain faithful. We should be a people who are “zealous of good works” (Ti 2:14) in order that we not be led into the apathy that is produced by riches. The Laodiceans allowed the easiness of their life-style to infect the culture of their faith. They became complacent in their coins and lax in their love for Christ. It was not that money is evil. When one loves money more than good works in response to the love of God through the cross, then he is spiritually in trouble. It is for this reason that personal good works are a measuring gage as to how much one loves the Lord.
D. Plea for spiritual restoration:
We know that one can repent from the life-style of lukewarmness because of the call of Jesus for repentance. The fact of the plea is evidence that they could restore zeal for Jesus and focus on those things that are above. They needed to read again the letter that the Holy Spirit sent to the Christians in Colosse in A.D. 61,62, which by this time, had been circulated among the seven churches, for the city of Colosse was not far from any of the seven cities.
If you then were raised with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth (Cl 3:1,2).
When He wrote the letter to the Colossians, the Holy Spirit knew the direction of lukewarmness to which the Christians in Laodicea and other churches were going. The Colossian letter was the forewarning of admonition from God. The direct address of judgment of Jesus to the Laodiceans in Revelation was the call for their repentance, for they had eagerly run after the lure of riches. Jesus’ address was a direct warning because they did not read well the exhortation of the Holy Spirit in the Colossian letter. Instead of having Bible class studies of Colossians, they were waiting for the “closing prayer” in order to leave God and run after money.
1. “I stand at the door and knock”: The plea of verse 20 is not to unbelievers. The plea is to Christians who were “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” in their prosperity. This is not an evangelistic plea. It is a plea to Christians who have died in their lukewarmness, and were about to be spewed out by Jesus. This is a plea to the lukewarm sinners in the church, not to sinners of the world.
Jesus is at the door of opportunity for the lukewarm Christian. The word “knock” is a present participle, and thus, Jesus is continuously knocking. The metaphor is pointed because Jesus continually pleads with His disciples to repent when they fall into the sin of lukewarmness. The lukewarm disciple knows that he is not zealous with good works toward God, and thus he continually feels the knock of Jesus on his heart. His conscience tells him that his life-style of lukewarmness is not pleasing to the One who gave up being on an equality with God in order to redeem him (Ph 2:5-9).
The present participle action teaches that repentance from apathy is difficult. The knock is continuous action because apathetic disciples must work themselves out of a religious culture of lukewarmness in which they became very comfortable. All the time Jesus is knocking on one’s conscience, one must be struggling to repent of lukewarm churchianity.
2. “If anyone hears”: Now we know why Jesus concluded each address to the seven churches with the statement, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rv 3:22). The word “hear” means repent and obey. If one would hear the commandments of Jesus, then he would repent and obey. Discipleship is more than knowledge. One can know the outline of commandments, but do nothing. It is legalist hypocrisy if one claims to be a disciple of Jesus, and yet, remains lukewarm.
The Laodicean disciples had fallen into the religiosity of knowing all the outlines of doctrine, but their behavior was stagnant. They were comfortable sitting in assemblies on Sunday and taking in all the knowledge of the teacher. But their performance after the “closing prayer” was far from adequate. Such is the curse of riches. It is easy to pay someone to get the job done instead of getting one’s own hands dirty in the filth of humanity. Lest they stain their white garments with the dirt of duty, the rich Laodiceans would be comfortable to just hire some clergyman to do the job for them.
The rich cannot fool the Holy Spirit on this matter. Through Paul, the Spirit instructed Timothy to tell the rich that they be rich in good works (1 Tm 6:18). This means hands-on activity for Jesus. No disciple can work at a distance from the needs of others. Money can never become a buffer between servant and need. If we think it can, then we need to take another look at the dirty towel in the hands of our Creator after He finished washing the dirty feet of His disciples (See Jn 13:1-17).
3. “To him who overcomes”: Those who would overcome the stifling curse of prosperity would gain the privilege of sitting down beside the Lord of the world (Rv 3:21). What a powerful promise. When Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Father, all the universe became the domain of His kingdom reign (See Dn 7:13,14; Ep 1:20-22; Ph 2:5-11). At the time John was recording these words, Jesus was right there at the right hand of God, reigning over all things. Now the sweet promise of Jesus to the Laodicean disciples is if they can overcome the curse of riches that often produces the sin of lukewarm activity for Jesus, they too could sit right there with Jesus.
This was not a promise that would be fulfilled centuries later. The power of the appeal of the promise was that it could happen in their lifetime. We can, as Paul taught, “reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ” (Rm 5:17). “If we suffer, we will also reign with Him” (2 Tm 2:12). And suffer, the Laodiceans would in the coming years. This last personal message to the members of His one organic body was a plea of Jesus that they open the door of their hearts to Him. He knew their future. He knew that they were going into a century and a half of torturous turmoil before they would emerge on the other side of truly “dark ages.” If any disciple was to survive the ages to come, then he had to allow Jesus to come in and sit down with him in his heart. And by sitting in their hearts, they would sit with Him in a heavenly reign over all those who would bring harm against them. Any Christian would be able to overcome because he or she would be right there beside Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
These will make war with the Lamb and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords an King of kings. And those who are with Him are called and chosen and faithful (Rv 17:14).
Those who open their Bibles and listen to Jesus will remain shining lamps of light in their communities. Their good works will generate glory of God (Mt 5:16). Instead of being a flickering flame on the verge of being snuffed out by Jesus, they will draw all men to them. Their drawing power is the nature of who they are in their community. One of the most powerful ways to win others to Jesus is to shine one’s brilliant light before the world. It is then that the exhortation of Peter will come true in one’s life:
But sanctify Christ as Lord God in your hearts and be ready always to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear (1 Pt 3:15).
Flickering flames need to repent in order to become flaming lights for Jesus.
[End of lecture series 104]