Updated: May 29, 2022
What can we learn from them
To the Church in Laodicea-the lukewarm church
Laodicea was built on a confluence of three major highways and became a successful commercial and trade city. Located near hot springs the water temperature analogy would be particularly clear to these believers. Likewise the city had at that time a well-known school of medicine and so the analogy of eye salve would be understood. The citizens had a reputation for being very rich and knowing it and hence were considered conceited and proud. So too the church in this city had been influenced by such worldly thinking and had started to boast about their spiritual riches.
Revelation 3:14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 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. 18 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.
Jesus is disgusted with these Christians because of their tepidness, half-heartedness, and spiritual blindness. He warns them in severe tones to get sorted out from their delusions because He wants to see them return to spiritual vitality and to be able to see clearly again. He wants them zealous and passionate about Him and His things. Their affluence had blinded them to their true spiritual state which was of poverty rather than riches. True gold will be those works inspired by the Holy Spirit that will stand the trial by fire at the bema judgement of the righteous.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20 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 them, and they with me.
Jesus now speaks tenderly to them...
21 To those who are victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Those who obey Jesus will receive tremendous rewards....
Their affluence had blinded them to their true spiritual state which was of poverty rather than riches.
Further Commentary from Linda Morris (see reference materials at the end)
Laodicea was founded around 250BC by the Greek Antiochus and named after his wife. It was the capital of the region of Phrygia.
It had 3 roads and 2 rivers and was a trading centre, bringing lots of Jews to the town. In the census of 62BC there were 7,500 Jews living there. The main industry was clothing, particularly clothes made from the wool produced there which was black and shiny. (Compare v18 ‘buy from me white garments’
It was a wealthy town which had everything, including theatre, stadium, etc. One of the things it was known for was a centre for banking and finance. Cicero changed his letters of credit in the banks there (like travellers’ cheques). There were a lot of wealthy homes therefore the city teemed with beggars hoping to be given money. (Compare v17 ‘you say “I am rich”...you are poor’).
The other thing it was known for was a city for health. The local god they worshipped was ‘Men’, the god of healing. They had a medical school where a famous ophthalmologist practiced, a hospital, and offered expensive treatments. It was famous for its perfumes, ointments, and medicines. They had ointment for sore ears, and powder known as ‘Phrygian powder’ was an ingredient of eye lotions. (Compare v18 ‘anoint yourselves with eye salve’)
It was 10 miles from Hierapolis where Philip was martyred and buried, and the same distance from Colossae.
The water supply in the city was lukewarm, probably carried by the aqueduct. Hierapolis had hot springs and Colossae had cold, pure water so the water was tepid by the time it reached Laodicea. You could drink the water hot or cold, but if you drank it lukewarm it made you sick. (Compare v16 ‘you are lukewarm.... I will vomit you out of my mouth’)
The church was founded by Epaphras and was meeting in the house of a lady called Nympha. Onesimus came from Laodicea. Later it mentions a leader of that name, so could be the same person. Unlike most of the other churches, the church in Laodicea had no problems. They were large and prosperous.
Laodicea is mentioned a few times in Colossians, and the letter to the Colossians was also to be read out to the people in Laodicea. Paul wrote a letter to the church in Laodicea (Col 4:16) which was also to be read out in Colossae, but nobody knows where it went. Perhaps the fact that it was lost shows that it did not do any good.
The letter to the church in Laodicea begins with the most intense description Jesus gives of Himself – the ‘Amen’ (meaning absolute truth), ‘Faithful and True Witness’, ‘the beginning of the creation of God (the source of God’s creation, the Creator).
The accusations against them
They are neither hot nor cold – they are insipid, cannot be bothered. When a house is on fire, people come and look! You cannot do anything when people are tepid because they are satisfied. It is a hopeless situation. Jesus says lukewarm people make Him sick!
They are independent. Self-sufficient. They are proud. They needed no help and could fall into the trap of thinking that God was blessing them. When they were struck by an earthquake in 60AD they refused help from the Roman Empire and rebuilt the city by themselves.
They were ignorant. Self-deceived.
Jesus’ “counsels” (advises) them (v18). It is not a command. He knows they will not obey His orders.
We cannot buy spiritual gold from Jesus but here (v18) Jesus is speaking to them as people who measure everything in monetary terms. He is saying, ‘do business with me!’
He is telling them to exert themselves (v19) - it takes effort to lift yourself out of apathy and turn from sin.
Jesus wants them to let Him in so that He can have fellowship and be intimate with them (v20).
It is interesting seeing the comparisons between how they live their lives and how Jesus uses these things to challenge them, and made me think – if Jesus were to write to a church in our city/town what aspects could He use? Does that relate to our churches?
Even today rich, self-made people do not see their need for Jesus and there is more openness to the Gospel in poor countries than it is in the Western world. We need missionaries to come to the UK from Africa!!
Reference materials: Jewish New Testament Commentary by David H. Stern
Studies by David Pawson
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