You Can't be Voted In to the Kingdom
Prayer: God as we study today about Laodicea help us to learn from their example and not rely on our assumed position in you. Help us to rely on your riches rather than worldly riches to do your work, fighting against our natural tendencies to do things by our own strength or out of our own bounty. Help us to do this as individuals, as a church body, and in the true Church - the body of believers in the world. Amen!
Today we will be studying the 7th church of the 7 who were specific recipients of letters in the book of Revelation, the church at Laodicea.
Established around 2000 BC by the Ionians & originally named Diospolis, acquired by the Hittites in the 19th century BC. It was captured around 900 BC by the Phrygians & again soon afterwards by the Lydians, at which time it was renamed Rhoas. In 250 BC it was taken by the Syrians and renamed Laodicea after the wife of Antiochus II (Laodice). In 190 BC it became part of the Kingdom of Pergamos & eventually passed into the hands of the Roman Empire. According to the historian Josephus there was a large Jewish colony there.
Laodicea was the wealthiest city in Phrygia during Roman times - known for its banking establishments, medical school, and textile industry. They were known for a particular breed of sheep that produced a wool that was very soft, very shiny, and black - they were famous for the cloth and carpets made from this wool. Their medical school was also famous, and known especially for an eye salve, a specific mixture of powder and oil - Aristotle even mentions this by its name of "Phrygian powder", named for the region though produced in Laodicea. These two industries & the banking will be reflected in the letter.
Its major weakness was its inadequate water supply. Two nearby cities had good water supplies - Hierapolis had hot water springs known for their medicinal qualities, Colossae had abundant cold water. Water was brought to Laodicea by aqueduct from Hierapolis, about 6 miles away, and was lukewarm when it reached the city. This water issue is also going to be reflected in the letter.
Located on a key road system, a junction of roads leading from Ephesus and Smyrna, most of the wealth of the area flowed through Laodicea, which is why it had become so prosperous. Caravan trade came from as far east as the Yellow River in Punjab by the China Sea, so it was a location of worldwide trade & comerce. Cicero held court there and did his banking there.
The city was destroyed by an earthquake in 62 AD, and was rebuilt by its wealthy citizens without taking help from Rome. The citizens of the city were wealthy and had need of nothing, this was a source of pride. They were the Beverly Hills of their time.
They were known for their prosperous neutrality. The city couldn't be defended well, so it adopted a position of compromise, like the Switzerland of the area - you'll hear this come out as a theme in the letter.
Population information has been hard to find, but one estimate puts the city at a population of around 100,000 (though this seems low). The city was eventually abandoned because of earthquakes.
Architecture: Luxury & Wealth
- Some structures surviving to this day that demonstrate its former luxury: Theater, Aqueducts, Baths, Gymnasium, Stadium.
- There was a large community of Jews in the area.
- There are ruins of 3 Christian Churches.
- Zeus / Jupiter was worshiped.
- Phrygian god Men Karou was the primitive god for the area, its large temple is believed to have served as an extensive marketplace (compared to Istanbul).
History of the church in Laodicea: Paul wrote a letter to Laodicea (it has since been lost), the letter of 1 Timothy was written by Paul while he was in Laodicea. Archippus was the bishop of Laodicea & had been warned by Paul 30 years prior to be more diligent in fulfilling his ministry Colossians 4:16-17. It is possible that weak leadership of the church led to its spiritual condition.
The Letter to Laodicea: read Revelation 3:14-22
Name of the city: Laodicea - Named after Laodice, but the name means "Rule of the People". This is fine for the city, but what about the church? Who should be ruling the church? Jesus Christ!!
Title of Christ: "the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation"
Amen - a Hebrew word that means True, Verily. Jesus is the true one, the Amen.
Faithful & True Witness - Jesus ministry is marked by Faithfulness to the Father. He was a true witness to the Father (John 14:9-11).
Ruler of God's Creation - "Ruler" is a word Greek that can mean first in Time (first origin or first cause) or in Rank - He is the one that rules over all creation, and also actively involved from the very beginning of Creation (Colossians 1:15-20; John 1:1-3). From this title we can posit that this church may have fallen into a worldly / humanistic point of view, dismissing the scriptures as pure truth - denying the unique creative process that brought our world into being (before the fall which brought about the state of our current physical universe which is subject to corruption - entropy) is denying the power and authority of the Creator. Frequently a humanistic viewpoint finds its origins in the denial of the Creator & the truth of creation, and frequently results in the denial of the authority of scripture.
Concerns: "you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked."
Neither cold nor hot - It neither had the hot healing waters in nearby Hierapolis, nor the refreshing cold refreshing waters of nearby Colossae. Jesus is using an idiom from the local area, they are not palatable. We don't want to try to take this symbolism too far & apply our own cultural ideas about what it means to be hot or cold, Jesus is simply making a point that they are unacceptable. (Matthew 7:21-23)
Claim to be Rich, have acquired wealth and do not need a thing - Jesus doesn't promise us wealth, having perfect health, or to be free from problems; these are lies, those who think this are deceived. These may be individuals (or the local church) that are thinking "I must be doing things right look at all these blessings I have", they assume that if they's got it good its because they're right with God... but verse 19 tells us something else (we'll get there in a moment).
Wretched, Pitiful, Poor, Blind, Naked - Their true state, lacking the gifts and the armor or God, lacking the truths about God. Those who "live good lives", who "follow the rules" but have no real treasure, no real faith, are pitiful and wretched - lost and don't even know it, without hope. This church "looks good" to their members & "looks good" perhaps to the world around them, but it's not "good" at all. We can't measure a church by human standards, if so we'd all think our church was the "best"... we must, it is vital, that we evaluate our church by God's standards & work with God to make the changes He wants to bring. We must be dependent on God, not self-satisfied & self-assured. Warren W Wiersbe: "Their material wealth and glowing statistics were but shrouds hiding a rotting corpse."
Exhortation: "I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me."
Gold, Clothes, Salve - These three relate back to the city's banking, textile industry, and medical school.
Gold refined in the fire - true riches only obtained from God as opposed to riches of the world. What is the Gold that is refined in fire? The blood of Jesus, His life, pour out for us in sacrifice to save us from our sins. Jesus alone could withstand the fire of Judgement that comes out of the Perfect Justice of God, so He stood in our place.
White Clothes - being clothed with the Righteousness of Christ, rather than the fine black wool cloth produced in the city. At this point Jesus tells them they are Naked, they are not clothed with His Righteousness (not saved).
Salve to see - to have Spiritually healthy vision by the salve of the Holy Spirit as opposed to Physically healthy vision from the salve of the city. This church is blinded by the world & what it offers, materialistic.
What happens to those who truly know God & are loved by Him? They face trials, they are rebuked when they need discipline, they don't have everything easy or smooth.
Repent, I'm knocking - The good news is they are not incurable - they can repent. They can have their eyes opened, put on robes of righteousness, and become truly rich!! Jesus is inviting them to become part of His kingdom, He is promising fellowship with Him to all who will hear His voice and open the door. Where is Jesus in the church of Laodicea? He's outside knocking & wants in... in spite of the state of this church He knocks on the door for individuals to respond. This is a good reminder to us that individuals can be saved even within dead churches, and I know of some people who have stayed within churches they know have strayed because they may be the only witness the people within those churches may ever interact with.
Promise to the Overcomer: "I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne."
Multiple Thrones - Jesus Throne & the Father's Throne. Where is Jesus currently sitting? On the Father's Throne. What is Jesus Throne? The Throne of David (Luke 1:30-33). The overcomer will rule & reign with Jesus on His Throne (2 Timothy 2:11-12a; Revelation 5:9-10). One commentator also pointed out that Jesus has an Eternal Throne as well (Revelation 22:3), and that its possible that this promise looks forward to that one as well; however, the throne mentioned in that passage may be the Father's throne.
Closing Statement: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches"
Historical Church - Age of Apostacy or the Apostate Church (1900 - today):
Many churches today have wonderful programs & dramas & wide varieties of music & outreach programs, but the blood of Christ is not preached.
How is your life like the life of the church of Laodicea? Are you comfortable & at ease in your faith or is your faith being challenged to strengthen and grow? You're not perfect, you should experience some discipline / rebuke / challenge if you are loved by God. Are you "looking good", saying all the right things & doing all the right things but living a lie? Is Jesus knocking on your door because you've not yet invited Him in?
How is our church like the church of Laodicea? Is our church rich & thinking we don't need anything? Are we an arrogant church that assumes we've got things in order because we're not facing any challenges? Is our church preaching the blood of Christ for redemption from the pulpit?
Prayer: God, help us to not depend on riches or comforts. Help us to be a people who realize our spiritual poverty and to respond to your voice and fellowship with you. Help us to do this as individual believers and as a local body of believers, so that we may have the honor of sitting on your throne with you. Amen!