Churches of Revelation: Part 8 – Laodicea
This city was founded by Antiochus who named it for his wife, Laodike. The city was populated with Jews and Syrians through transplanting from Babylonia. The city did not become wealthy until the Roman empire in 190 BC. The main product from this city was black wool of the sheep. It was of the finest quality in the region. They were also well known for a special powder that would be put on peoples’ eyes for healing purposes. This will be revisited when we look at Revelation 3:18 later.
In 60 AD, the city was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake. Because of their wealth, they told the Romans that they did not need any of their money and the wealthy citizens rebuilt the city on their own. This, too, will be revisited when we look at Revelation 3:17 later.
While there is not much known, Colossians 1:7 gives us a couple of hints as to who planted this church. It seems as if Epaphras was the primary church planter with help from Timothy and Mark.
This is the final letter to the churches of Revelation and it is a church that literally makes Jesus sick. This church, if we really look at the churches that are upsetting to Christ, would be the worst of the worst of the book of Revelation.
By the time Revelation was written, the churches listed in this book would have been about 30 years old. I find it amazing that after 30 years, many of these churches stayed small. Today we consider growth of a church the primary litmus test for a successful church. But Revelation proves that Jesus doesn’t see it that way.
Laodicea was clearly the church with the biggest issue. Many of the commentaries I have read about this church call it the “unsaved church.” That would mean this is a church filled with unbelievers. This is the only church out of the seven that Jesus says nothing good about anyone in the church. Even Sardis, the church we looked at a few weeks ago, even though it was a dead church, still had a remnant of believers in it. There was no remnant in Laodicea.
And what is even worse is that this church is proud.
They are proud of their unbelief.
So Jesus begins this letter to them the way He has in all the others, by introducing Himself. Beginning in verse 14, Jesus explains a few things about His nature. He starts by calling Himself “the Amen.” What does that mean?
Isaiah 65:16 – Whoever invokes a blessing in the land will do so by the one true God; whoever takes an oath in the land will swear by the one true God. For the past troubles will be forgotten and hidden from my eyes.
In Isaiah 65:16, we read that God is the God of Amen. We say “amen” at the end of prayers. We sing “amen” in our songs. We yell “amen” when the pastor says something that agrees with our beliefs on Sunday morning. But what does “amen” truly mean?
“Amen” is an affirmation. The word is used in Scripture to show a statement to be true. Very similar in the New Testament, we read the word, “verily.” “Verily” is used at the beginning of a statement to affirm its truth.
Calling Jesus the “Amen” is saying that He is unchangeable, fixed, and true. he not only affirms God’s promises, but He affirms His covenants.
2 Corinthians 1:20 – For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.
2 Corinthians explains to us that Jesus validates God’s promises. Jesus is God’s “Amen.”
Next, Jesus is the “faithful and true witness.” Not only does Jesus validate the promises and covenants of God, but whatever He says is true. Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He is truth. His testimony bears to the character of God. Jesus is a faithful witness.
Third, He identifies Himself as the “Beginning of the creation of God.” While the translation is a little hard to verify, when we look at the surrounding words and go through Scripture systematically, we find that Jesus is the “image of the invisible God.”
Colossians 1:15 – The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
This means that Jesus is the head of all creation. If we go further in Colossians, we find that Jesus is the creator of all in the heavens and on earth. Christ is everything God is. He is Creator. He is the Author of life. And according to our verse in Revelation 3:14, He is the source of ALL creation.
This letter follows closely with the book of Colossians. The first chapter of Colossians speaks about the centrality of Christ. Why match up with the book of Colossians in explaining this deity of Christ?
Well, Laodicea is a short few miles from Colossae. There were 3 cities grouped in that area: Laodicea, Colossae, and Hieropolis. In the book of Colossians, Paul was writing to a church that was outwardly denying the deity of Christ. This Christological heresy had attacked the deity of Christ. And it was not only in Colossae, but also Laodicea.
Colossians 4:16 – After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.
What was going on in Colossae was also happening in Laodicea. They didn’t believe Jesus was the Alpha and the Omega. To be the Alpha meant that He is the Creator. To be the Omega meant that He is Completion. Jesus is the uncreated source of creation! But Laodicea didn’t believe that. And we have Jesus, who created all and is faithful and true witness to the Word of God and the One in whom all is brought to completion telling this church His identity.
Jesus was, for lack of a better term, offended by the lack of belief and the heresy coming from this church. They did not believe in Christ as deity. So this one verse has Christ explaining His deity to this church. And as the letter continues, having an incorrect view of Christ has significant and horrible spiritual effects.
So here we are in Laodicea, the most eastern city of the 7 in Revelation, and 45 miles from the closest Revelation church, Philadelphia. It is sister to Hieropolis, 6 miles away, and Colossae, 10 miles away. It is located in the Lycus River Valley. This area was one of the top trade routes because people didn’t travel in the mountains to do trade, they traveled in the valleys to make travel faster. And Laodicea was an intersection city. It had both an east/west and a north/south route going through it. Antiochus II founded the city in the 3rd century BC and named it for his wife. Soon after dedicating a city to her, he divorced her.
This city had a very large Jewish population, almost 4,000 males based on temple tax records. In the Talmud, the ancient Jewish commentary on the Old Testament laws, there is a line in there that explains that these Jews in Laodicea were filled with pagan views and merely cultural Jews, not practicing ones.
Some other interesting points about this city is that it had an underground aqueduct. Because the population was growing so quickly here, the streams nearby could not keep up with the water needs of the community so they built the aqueduct. They put it underground so enemies could not access it. The water was collected in a central water tower and then distributed across the city through a series of pipes.
The other interesting note about this city is its wealth. It was a banking center and so wealthy that when the earthquake hit in 60 AD and leveled the town, the people of Laodicea rebuilt the city without any help from Rome. This was a source of pride for the townspeople of Laodicea. Tacitus, a Roman historian, wrote, “Laodicea rose from the ruins by the strength of her own resources with no help from us.”
Colossians 1:7-8 – just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.
This is a wealthy and self-sufficient city and that attitude found its way into the church along with the Christological heresy that plagued Colossae. So soon after Epaphras founded the church, the church was filled with heresy and unbelief. It is unlikely that Paul ever went to Laodicea, but he knew some of the believers there based on how he speaks in the book of Colossians. This is a church that had spiritual life but was soon corrupted. Sardis was dead, but there were still believers there. Thyatira was compromising and idolatrous, but there was still a group of believers there. Laodicea has none of that. Jesus gives no commendation to this church.
In verse 15 Jesus tells this church, “I know your deeds.” There is no commendation after it. Only rebuke. Jesus says that this church is neither hot nor cold but lukewarm. And this church makes Him so sick He is going to vomit them out! VOMIT! That is a pretty strong statement to a church!
The interesting thing about the words Jesus uses here are vast. You have Hieropolis, which is known for the healing and restorative powers of the hot springs. You have Colossae which is a very cold church. And, in the middle, you have Laodicea. The aqueducts that they built brought significantly impure water into the city that was merely tepid. It wasn’t hot enough to relax. It wasn’t cool enough to quench your thirst. It was dirty and made people sick to their stomachs. It caused people to get nauseous and vomit.
Throughout the churches in Revelation, we had churches which made him angry and churches which disappointed Him but this church made Him sick!
By verse 17, Jesus is not only calling this church sickening, but also deceived.
Revelation 3:17 – 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.
Laodicea was a wealthy city. It was famous for banking. It was famous for its wool industry. It had wealth beyond measure. And this church was caught up in that, believing they needed nothing which meant they also believed they needed nothing from God.
This is the worst place for a church to be in. They know about Christ and they create a false Christ. They know about God and they create a false God. And not only have they done that, but they are confident in their view that they created.
Unfortunately this church is like many churches, denominations, and seminaries today. They are rich in wealth. They are rich in knowledge. They don’t understand that their condition is that of Laodicea’s.
God calls those churches “miserable, wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” There is nothing saving about those words. There is no hope of salvation for them. If we were to look at groups or demographics, these would be the unsaved in a church. They think they are being Christian by playing church when all they are doing is sickening Christ.
Unfortunately, there are many churches and denominations today that fit this description. And those churches are usually the most proud churches. They are proud of the political stances they have taken while ignoring the deity of Christ. They are proud of the humanist stances they have taken or the bridges they have created with the world in general when God says they are to be pitied. They have no clue what their true condition is.
Revelation 3:18-20 – I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.
This is where Jesus takes the industries that are prevalent throughout Laodicea and uses them to explain what they need to do to begin to change. The city was known for banking, then begin buying gold from Jesus. The city was known for wool, then begin clothing yourself in the garments of righteousness. The city was known for its hospitals, then begin placing God’s ointment, or Scripture, on your eyes so that you can see again.
Jesus is extending grace to the hypocrite!
Isaiah 55:1 – “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
In Isaiah we learn that we are to come without money. What should it profit a man if he gains the world and loses his soul? All the spiritual blessings come from God and God alone. Want to be spiritually rich? Go to Jesus. Want to be clothed in righteousness? Go to Jesus. Want to see the world how God sees it? Go to Jesus.
1 Peter 1:7 – These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
True faith is more precious than gold.
After telling them to be rich in the Spirit, he tells them to be clothed in white. The word for “white” here is “leukos.” This is a dazzling or brilliant white like staring into a light bulb. This is the same robe of righteousness that is written about is Isaiah 61:10.
And then He calls them to see with the eyes of God.
This is 3-fold salvation. The gold that makes us spiritually rich after being tested by fire, the robes that cover our sinfulness with the righteousness of God, and the eye salve that lets us see how God sees.
Revelation 3:19 – Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
In verse 19 Jesus says something very interesting. Many people think that Jesus is talking to believer in the church here. But I don’t believe He is. Jesus also comes to rebuke unbelievers. In John 16 we learn that He convicts the world through the Holy Spirit. In Luke 23 we learn that Jesus loves the world and reproves and disciplines it. 2 Timothy 2:25 is used with regard to unbelievers.
God loves unbelievers.
We would not have salvation if it weren’t for His love of the unbeliever.
God is showing His tender side in this letter. Jesus is showing them love. Not the agape love that describes relationship with the love, but phileo love which is simply a divine affection.
He is calling this church to repent.
This leads to one of the most misunderstood verses in all the Bible, Revelation 3:20.
Revelation 3:20 – 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 that person, and they with me.
Jesus is showing His compassion and mercy.
Many Christians use this verse to say that Jesus is standing at the door of our heart and knocking. But that is not it at all.
Jesus is standing at the door of this church. The church that refuses to accept the TRUE Christ in. And Jesus is knocking. If they open the door to the church and let Him in, then He will enter. If not, well, salvation has passed.
In the other problematic churches in Revelation Jesus was still in the church, in the lives of the believers still present. In Laodicea He stands outside and is knocking to get in. In compassion Jesus is knocking. He is shut out of a church that bears His name!
How many dead churches do we see that have the mane of Christ in their title? The knocking is Jesus trying to get one believer into that church. That’s all it takes is one. If just one person let’s Christ into that church, then He will go in and dine with them.
Revelation 3:21 – To the one who is 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.
The promise if they choose to allow Jesus in is, I believe, one of the greatest of the seven churches. He will give them the opportunity to be seated on His throne.
This is the message to the apostate church. This is the message to those who hold knowledge higher than Christ. This is the message to those who deny Christ and the Bible. This is the message not for the true church, but the one who doesn’t believe in the deity of Christ.