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Laodicea (The Lukewarm Church)

Now we come to the seventh and final church Jesus specifically addressed.  The Christians in Philadelphia received high praise and more opportunity from Jesus.  It is with a sense of hope and high endeavor as we seek to emulate them in our own congregations.  However, as wonderful as the praise and words were for Philadelphia, the words for Laodicea were just the opposite.  Jesus described Sardis as being dead, but there were Christians in Sardis who were faithful.  There were a few things in the church at Sardis that could be built upon.  Jesus had no words of praise but only rebuke for the church at Laodicea. 

Laodicea was located in the Lycos valley in the province of Phrygia.  It was located at the intersection of three imperial trade routes, which favored its development as a commercial and administrative center. The city occupied an almost square plateau several hundred feet high about two miles south and above the valley of the Lycus River and flanked along its sides by the small rivers Asopus and Caprus, which discharge their waters into the Lycus.  The city was protected by the Salbacus and Cadmus mountains to the south, which rise to over 8,000 feet above sea level. Laodicea was just over one hundred miles from Ephesus, six miles south of Heirapolis, and eleven miles west of Colosse.  Directly opposite the city, a cliff of about a mile wide arose some 300 feet above the city.  The city was originally called Diospolis, and afterwards Rhoas and  then Laodicea,

Laodicea was originally founded by Antiochus II of Syria (261 BC - 246 BC), who named it after his wife Laodike.  Antiochus populated it with Syrians and with about 2000 Jewish families who had been moved to Phrygia and Lydia from Babylonia.  Laodicea had an extensive Jewish population numbering by some accounts to have over 7500 registered tax payers.  In 62 AD the Jews collected and sent over 22 pounds of gold to Jerusalem for their annual temple contribution which the Romans seized. 

Laodicea was built on the great highway from Asia Minor to the east, at the junction of several important routes.  After the Roman province of Asia was formed in 190 BC, it grew to become a great and wealthy center of industry.   The Syrians and the Pergamenes dominated the city from 190 BC until the death of Attalus III of Pergamum when it came under Roman rule in 133 BC.  King Attalus III had no male heirs and left his entire kingdom in his will to the Roman Empire.  The Romans reconstructed and improved the ancient trade routes so that the city became the major junction for traffic west to Ephesus and the Aegean, north and west to Philadelphia, Pergamum, and Smyrna, east through southern Galatia, and south to the Mediterranean. Although it had formally been a small city, it grew rapidly as a result of Roman rule and became one of the wealthiest cities in Phrygia.  Laodicea received from Rome the title of free city. During the Roman period Laodicea was the chief city of a Roman conventus iuridicus, which comprised twenty-four cities besides itself.  A conventus iuridicus was the capital city of a subdivision of some provinces such as Dalmatia, Spain and Asia, which functioned as an administrative and judicial center. 

Laodicea was famous especially for the fine black wool of its sheep and for the Phrygian powder for the eyes, which was manufactured there.  Nearby was the temple of Men Karou who was the Phrygian God of healing.  His Greek counterpart was known as Asklepios, and associated with their temple was a well known school of medicine.  In the year 60 AD, the city was almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake, but so wealthy were its citizens that they rejected the aid of Rome, and quickly rebuilt it at their own expense. It was a city of great wealth, with extensive banking operations.

Pagan worship in Laodicea:
Along with the temple to Asklepios one could find the worship of Zeus and of Isis.  Isis was an Egyptian mother god associated with the Phrygian goddess, Cybele.  She was also associated with Aphrodite and Venus who were all characterized with orgiastic behavior in their worship.  Imperial worship began early in the city, but no evidence exists that Laodicea ever had a temple for the imperial cults so their influence, while definitely oppressive may have been a little less severe than in some of the other cities. 

The church in Laodicea may have been founded by Epaphras of Colossi, a companion of Paul, during Paul's third missionary journey.  A marble block bearing the name of Epaphras has been discovered in the city. There is no record of Paul visiting the city himself, but some of the Christians there were known to him by name. He wrote a letter to the church there which has been lost. Paul tells the Colossians that he was "struggling" for this city (2:1), indicating he was aware of the situation in the church there, and passes greetings to them through the church in their sister-city, Colossi (4:15).  It is possible that the Philemon of the New testament may have been from Laodicea.  There has been an inscription discovered in the city written by a freed slave to a master called Marcus Sestius Philemon.

Revelation 3:14
And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God:
The word "Amen" literally means, let it be so.  "The Amen" here denotes the one in whom reality is found. There is also the sense of completeness and finality in it. Before Christ, there was no other; and after him there is no other.  The Christians in the Roman empire had hundreds of false pagan gods they could choose to worship but Jesus was "the Amen" .

"The faithful and true witness"
The faithfulness of Christ is affirmed in this.  Jesus Christ had no need of faith in the sense of its use today; but "as a man" he walked in faith, implicitly trusting and obeying all that the Father willed of Him.   All human justification hinges on the perfect faith and perfect obedience of Christ.  Were it not for the perfect faithfulness of Christ, mankind would have no hope. 

"The beginning of the creation of God"
Some religious groups today try and use this scripture to teach that God created Jesus.  This flies in the face of a host of other scripture that affirms the deity and eternal nature of Jesus Christ such as John 1:1-14.  Scripture also reveals, "For by him [Jesus] 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" (Colossians 1:16-17).  The correct understanding of this verse is Chr
ist as the Source of all the things God created.   The church in Laodicea would be very familiar with Paul's letter to the Colossians because they were instructed to read it aloud in their assemblies (Colossians 4:16).

Revelation 3:15
"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot."
Jesus told all seven of the churches that He knew their works.  He knew what they were doing, He knew what they were not doing.  Once again we are faced with the fact that it was the works of these churches that determined whether Jesus found them acceptable or not.  The application for us today is that Saved by grace through faith does not mean saved without obedience to the will of God.  The words of Jesus ring loud and clear:  "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21).

The Laodiceans were lukewarm in their service to God.  They were indifferent and uncaring.  They were unconcerned about the things of the Kingdom.  They had all they thought they needed.  There was no passion, there was no driving force for them, There was no fire left, they no longer cared.  The Christians at Ephesus were condemned for losing their first love.  The Christians at Laodicea had lost it all. 

The church is depicted in scripture as the bride of Christ.  What groom wants a wife that is non-committal and uncaring?  Husbands are commanded to love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it (Ephesians 5:25).  But what about the wife who gives nothing back, who won't love her husband enough to do anything?  A woman that is on fire and zealous for her husband is eager to serve and vice-versa.  Similarly those of Christ's bride in the church who show up on Sundays, set in the back, never ask questions, never participate in church activities, never involve themselves with anything, never help with the services or help out in congregational activities are like the spouse who never does anything.  They are just along for the ride with no thought whatsoever of putting anything of their own into the relationship.  Such an attitude is sickening to say the least.  How does one deal with such a non-committal attitude?  How does Jesus feel about it?

Revelation 3:16
So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of my mouth.
To Jesus, the Christians in Laodicea had come to stand for the most disgusting thing on earth, a fat, lazy, uncaring and complacent church, basking in their own presumed achievements, but wholly unacceptable to the Lord. 
The Christians at Laodicea were accused of being lukewarm, like the water they drank.  The Greek word for "spew" literally means to vomit, so Jesus was telling the Laodiceans they made Him sick. 

In Laodicea, potable water had to be transported to the city by aqueduct and raised to a tall water-distribution tower by siphon action. In fact, the city's major weakness was its lack of an adequate and convenient source for water, its location having been determined by the road system rather than natural resources. As a result, water had to be brought in by this aqueduct from about 6 miles away.  By the time the water reached the city, it was usually neither hot nor cold, rather it was the temperature of the surrounding environment. 

The local water in Laodicea flowed down the river from the hot springs at Heirapolis where it was used for healing baths. The water, however, was rough with alum and sulphur which made it unfit for drinking. Drinking this water would make one sick if he tried. The city's potable water, having flowed six miles through an aqueduct, arrived tepid.

The Laodiceans well knew what it was like to drink lukewarm water and what it was like to become sick and vomit from drinking the local water.  Jesus purposefully used words that would positively identify those to whom He was addressing as the direct recipients of His teachings.  In other words, this was Jesus' way of saying, "make no mistake about this, I'm talking to you".  The Christians at Laodicea or any of the other churches could not set back and say Jesus was not specifically talking to them.  There was just too much of their history and circumstances pointed out in His words to make any mistake about it.  All that was left for them to do was to look at each other, acknowledge to themselves that they had been found out and were not getting away with anything and make whatever necessary changes Jesus commanded.  There was no way any of them could stand before God and make the claim they didn't know Jesus was really talking to them.  Jesus told them they made Him sick and they knew it was them He was talking to. 

The application for us today is that even though Jesus pinpointed the Laodiceans specifically for this rebuke, His feelings toward any church guilty of being lukewarm would make Him sick.  Let's all examine ourselves and be sure that our service does not make Jesus want to vomit us up.

Revelation 3:17
"Because thou sayest, I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked:"
Laodicea was a wealthy city.  The fertile ground of the Lycus valley made good grazing for sheep.  The Laodiceans had selectively bred sheep that produced black wool which was in high demand and brought fame to the region.  Carpets and clothing was manufactured from the black wool and brought extensive wealth to the city. 

Agricultural and commercial prosperity brought in the banking industry. Laodicea was well-known for its banks, minting its own coinage from the second century BC on. The city was so famous for its banking industry that even the Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero went there to exchange money. The city was so wealthy that after the devastating earthquake of ad 60 which caused its near-total destruction, it was able to rebuild itself while proudly refusing any help from Rome, which other similarly afflicted cities had been glad to accept. It was, in fact, one of the most prosperous of all the Asiatic cities.

Laodicea prided itself on its financial wealth.  As mentioned earlier when an earthquake devastated their city, they refused Roman help saying they did not need it.  By human standards, Laodicea was wealthy, but under the scrutiny of Jesus, they were not.  They lacked the riches that count in His eyes. 

Laodicea was well known for its medicinal concoctions, one in particular which was a supposed remedy for weak eyes.  Yet Jesus said they were blind and could not see themselves for what they really were.

Laodicea prided itself on it's clothing manufacture and trade industry which flourished as a result of the black wool developed in their area.  Yet Jesus says with all the fine and luxurious clothing at their disposal, they were in fact naked.

As so often before, we see the history of the area surrounding the church pictured in the words of Jesus.  In this manner, Jesus is able to make the point that "this means you".  The Laodiceans would read these words and instantly associate them with their own conditions.  This is a real slap in the face to them; a wake up call directed specifically at them and they well knew it. 

Revelation 3:18
"I counsel thee to buy of me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich; and white garments, that thou mayest clothe thyself, and (that) the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest; and eyesalve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see."
The Laodiceans had lots of material Gold but Jesus advised them to seek the gold that would make them rich. Jesus taught elsewhere, "For what doth it profit a man, to gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? For what should a man give in exchange for his life?" (Mark 8:36-37).  The material wealth of the Laodiceans was worthless.  It could not buy them what they really needed.  Gold represents something valuable and Jesus had the gold that is pure and valuable and was available for them to purchase.  James spoke of corrupt riches of man being rusted in chapter 5.  The most valuable Gold is refined through a process of fire.  The goldsmith heats the metal up until it is molten and the impurities in it are then separated leaving only the pure gold.   

The Hebrew writer wrote of the suffering of Jesus which made him the author of salvation to all who obey him (Hebrews 5:8-9).  Jesus is the "way, and the truth, and the life" and no one can come to the Father but by him (John 14:6).  The thing of value that Jesus has is the way, and the truth and life.  And it was tried by the fire of his suffering on the cross.  Jesus overcame everything just as he mentioned in verse 21 of this letter to the Laodiceans.  So how does one buy from Jesus, the valuable gold, the way, the truth and the life?  Jesus tells us:

"Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed"  (John 6:27).  Paying close attention to the words "which the Son of man shall give unto you" we note that Jesus is going to give us something he told us to labor for.  Everlasting life cannot be purchased by earthly riches or by the works of men.  Nor can it be purchased with works of righteousness either.  In order to pay for eternal life, we would have to be able to make the death of Jesus unnecessary and give Him back His life sacrificed on the cross.  There is no way mankind can repay that debt.  In the end, even though we should live a life of obedient service to Jesus, we are to consider ourselves unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10).  The Christian life faithfully lived is a life of self sacrificed service to the will of God (Romans 12:1).  And in so doing we have labored for the gold tried by fire, the real gold, the valuable gold.  And in the end, even though we can never hope to fully pay for it, God will give it us anyway.  That is called "grace".

"and white garments"
The Laodiceans were famous for their production of black garments.  White symbolized purity in the minds of the first readers.  The garments they were told to purchase from Jesus were white which symbolized purity.

"that thou mayest clothe thyself, and (that) the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest"
In the Old Testament, God told Nahum to tell the disobedient peop
le, "I will discover thy skirts upon thy face, and I will shew the nations thy nakedness, and the kingdoms thy shame" (Nahum 3:5).  Their disobedience made them naked and worthy of shame.  The Laodiceans were likewise guilty of the same and Jesus told them to cloth themselves with obedience so that their shame would not be made visible to the world.  

"and eyesalve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see"
As mentioned earlier Laodicea was famed for its production of an eye salve for relief of swollen weary eyes due to traveling many miles.  The sand and dirt from the roads would irritate the eyes of travelers and they could find relief from the eye salve of Laodicea.  Jesus is telling them to use some of their own medicine so they can see their own condition and do something about it.

This is another one of those "I'm talking to you" statements that Jesus so frequently makes in these letters to the various churches.  There was no doubt in the minds of the Laodicean Christians that Jesus knew all about them.  Nothing was hidden from His view.  Jesus knew all about the other conditions surrounding them.  None of those Christians could claim that Jesus was just out of touch of their situations.  They knew perfectly well that Jesus knew exactly what He was saying and to whom He was addressing. 

The application for us today is that Jesus is as familiar with our life of service and the goings on around us as he was with them.  Nothing we do or fail to do escapes His notice.  There is praise and honor for the obedient and criticism and chastisement for the disobedient. 

Revelation 3:19
"As many as I love, I reprove and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent."
Being told by the Son of God that they made him sick had to be devastating and disheartening to them.  How many of us who discipline our children assure them afterwards that it is because we love them that they are disciplined?  We do this so that they will not be crushed and left without hope.  We do this so that they will know and be reassured that it is for their own good that they have been corrected and that they are still loved.  Parents do not chasten children because they enjoy it.  Young children cannot recognize the dangers around them in everyday life.  It is vital that they are obedient to their parents so that they will stay out of danger as they grow up.   For instance, parents teach their children not to play with fire.   Obedient children will avoid a lot of pain and suffering while disobedient children may go ahead and play with fire and bring disaster upon themselves.  Parents know and recognize the danger of fire and though the children may not, if they are obedient, they will not be harmed by something they do not recognize as a danger. 

Playing with fire often times looks like fun to a child, but they cannot fully appreciate the danger it holds for them.  Parents do not forbid children playing with fire because they don't want them to have fun.  They forbid it because they know what it can do to their children. 

God does not deny us things that are sinful because he does not want us to live enjoyable lives.  God sees sin for what it really is.  Like the fire to the children, sin sometimes looks like fun.  We cannot always perceive the danger in light of the temptation.  But God knows that sin is enslaving and ugly and that it ultimately leads to pain and suffering.  God loves us and He knows what it will do to us and He wants us to avoid it so that we can live long and happy lives. 

So, after having corrected the Laodiceans harshly, He then reassures them that they were chastened because He loves them.  And they are then given the remedy.  They need to be zealous.  This is exactly what a lukewarm Christian is not.  They have to repent, stop being lukewarm and start being zealous of good works as commanded in Titus 2:14. 

The teachers of salvation by faith only need to take a long and prayerful look at the church at Laodicea who made Jesus sick because of her lack of works. 

Revelation 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."
Jesus is standing at the door of opportunity for all mankind.  The Greek word for "hear" is "akouo" which carries the meaning of listening or giving attention to.   Calvinist doctrine teaches the predestination of the elect.  They teach that God in His sovereign authority chose before time began who would be saved and who would be lost.  Jesus says here that He will come in and sup with "any man" who listens and opens the door.  "I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" means he will be in fellowship with whoever may listen and open the door.  Fellowship with God and with Jesus is taught by John in 1:3, "that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us: yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ."  Those who are "in Christ" and living faithfully are in fellowship with God and His Son, and Jesus says this spiritual blessing is available to all. 

Of significance here is that Jesus is standing outside the door to the church at Laodicea wanting in.   Jesus stands knocking at the door of opportunity from the outside but we have to open it from inside.  Opening the door is a figurative term for doing those things necessary in order to bring oneself into a state of fellowship with Jesus Christ.  Opening the door is our responsibility and it is up to us to learn what steps must be taken to open that door. 

Revelation 3:21
"He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne."
Truly the Revelation was written to the overcomers.  Those who would be faithful and zealous to the end.  Jesus said "Be thou faithful unto death and I will give the a crown of life".  How do we today receive the crown of life from Jesus?  By being faithful unto death and overcoming all obstacles in our paths.  Every single one of the churches were told to overcome, every single church was told to be faithful or to remain faithful, to stand fast, to persevere, to repent if necessary.  The reward for submissive obedience is an eternal inheritance in heaven with God.  The reward for rebellious disobedience is an eternal separation from God in the torments of Hell.  

Jesus came to earth as a man and overcame everything.  He lived a sinless life even during His torture and crucifixion.  If Jesus had of ever sinned, He could not have served as our perfect sacrifice.  Only the sacrifice of a perfect, spotless, sinless individual could do what needed to be done.  Jesus endured the world to the end, even while on the cruel cross of Calvary.  We would do well to pause and consider just what was hanging in the balance for all mankind while Jesus bled out His life on that cross.  Scourged and staked naked to a wooden cross, spat on, reviled and hated by His own creation.  He endured that shame and agony without a single sin and secured the hope of eternal life for the very people who killed Him and for us today.  The eternal fate of all mankind hung on whether Jesus overcame or not.  He overcame His cross and now we are called to do the same, whatever that cross may be.

Revelation 3:22
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches."
Any who will listen better heed what Jesus, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, by the hand of John, said to the churches.  We notice that Jesus expressly used the plural form of the word church.  All the things He said were applicable to all the churches He addressed.  One Spirit; one message; many churches.  The exhortation to the Laodiceans to be zealous does not apply just to the Laodiceans.  It applies to the all the rest as well.  The praises and condemnations given out by Jesus to each individual church were applicable to all of them.  The application for us today is that they were likewise applicable to us. 

Let us heed what the Spirit said to all the churches of Asia and realize that it has relevant applications to all the congregations of the Lord's church today.


Church of Christ Lessons on the Revelation of Jesus Christ

1.  Understanding Revelation
2.  Symbolic Objects in Revelation
3.  Understanding the Numerical Symbolism in Revelation
4.  Identifying the Opposition Characters in Revelation
John's Introduction to the Churches of Asia

6.  John's Vision of Jesus Christ
7. The Church who Left Her First Love, Ephesus
8.  Smyrna, the Suffering Church
9.  Pergamum, the church in Hell's Headquarter
10.  Thyatira, the church that Condoned Sin
11. Sardis (The Dead Church)
12. Philadelphia (The Church With Opportunity)
13.  Laodicea (The Lukewarm Church)

14.  Letter to Your Church
15.  John's Throne Vision (chapter 4)
16.  God the Redeemer Revealed  (chapter 5)
17.  God the Avenger of His Children (Chapter 6)
18.  Who Will Be Able To Stand  (Chapter 7)
19.  The First Four Trumpets
(Chapter 8)
20.  The Fifth Trumpet (Chapter 9:1-12)
21.  The Sixth Trumpet Announcement (Chapter 9:13-21)
22. The Little Book and the Unutterable Thunders (Rev 10)
23.  The Seventh Trumpet Announcement (Rev 11)
24. The Conflict (Revelation 12)
25.  Revelation 13 (Identification of the First Beast)

26.  Revelation 13 (Identification of the Second Beast)

27.  Chapter 14 (The Victorious Lamb and the Redeemed)
28.  Revelation 14 (The Turning Point)
29.  Revelation 14 (The Sickle and the Winepress)
30.  Chapter 15 (Comfort for the Saints)
31.  Chapter 16 (Bowls of Wrath)
32.  Chapter 16 (The Battle of Armageddon)
33.  Chapter 17 (The Scarlet Woman)
34.  Chapter 18 (Fallen  is Babylon)

35.  King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Chapter 19)
36.  The Fall of Satan  (Chapter 20)
37.  Heaven, the Home of the Soul  (Chapter 21)
38.  The Spirit and the Bride Say Come  (Chapter 22)
39.  The Dating of the Revelation

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Revelation 21:5-7

And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.  And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.  He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.