Our final stop on the map in our visit to the seven churches of Revelation is the church of Laodicea.
The city of Laodicea was located about 100 miles directly east of Ephesus, the first city to which these seven letters were addressed. Laodicea was part of a tri-city area, closely associated with the cities of Colossae (to which the letter to the Colossians was written), and Hierapolis. Laodicea was noted throughout the Roman province of Asia for its wealth, its commercial life, and its medical practice. As the banking center of Asia, it was the most prosperous of the seven cities. Many large beautiful homes were built in this city, the ruins of which are still visible. Laodicea also had a flourishing clothing industry. A particular breed of black sheep were raised around this area, and the glossy, black wool was woven into special clothes that were sold here. The city was also noted for its medical practice, especially for its eye and ear salve. Laodicea was so wealthy that it asked for no help to rebuild the city after the devastating earthquake of 60 AD. The city had undrinkable water. An aqueduct was built that would transport water from the city of Hierapolis located about six miles away. The water in Hierapolis came from mineral springs and came from the ground hot. By the time that the water traveled the six miles to Laodicea, it was tepid – just above room temperature. In other words, it was lukewarm.
Jesus introduces Himself as the bringer of the message by saying,
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.
In our modern day faith, we are used to saying the word “amen” to end a prayer or to give our assent to something spoken by a preacher or another speaker. Jesus used the word “amen” in a different context. Several statements of Jesus in the gospels begin with the phrase, “Verily, verily I say unto you”. The actual words used by Jesus in this statement are “amen”. Jesus uses this word before He is to say something that carries a pivotal truth. The following words are as true as the fact that He is the faithful and true witness and the ruler of God’s creation.
Like all other messages, Jesus references the lives of those in Laodicea. He is letting them know that He is intimately familiar with how they live. Then, He uses the following phrases to describe their lives:
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.
The church in Laodicea was not dead like the church in Sardis but it was not on fire like the church in Smyrna. It was a church that had found a niche of peaceful coexistence with the culture around it. It was able to do some good works, yet didn’t exude the radical influence of a church that lived and taught the Word of God. It was a church rich in finances and comfortable in its self centered approach to life. To the Lord, the life of the church was just like the water that was transported in from Hierapolis. It didn’t satisfy the dry and thirsty soul like a cup of cold water. Nor did it provide the healing qualities of the hot springs from which it was drawn. The church was so unsatisfying to Christ that He said that they made Him sick and that His only reaction to their faith was to vomit them out of His mouth!
These statements help us to realize that the church that is approved by the Lord is the one that is dedicated fully to His Word and Witness. The lukewarm church is in just as precarious a situation as the dead church. Neither of them display the resurrected life of Christ and are therefore not living in the power of the Spirit.
The church at Laodicea used its finances to point to the fact that it was blessed and in right standing with God. To the Laodiceans, riches equaled spirituality. Jesus told them that they were deceived and that their true spiritual condition was one of wretchedness, poverty, blindness, and nakedness.
The financially strapped church in Smyrna was much richer in Jesus’ eyes than the financially rich church of Laodicea.
Jesus’ counsel to the church in Laodicea was to buy from Him some things. This is an interesting statement. Salvation is a free gift to us, so why would they need to spend to get what they needed to change?
The idea that a walk with Christ costs something had become a foreign idea in Laodicea. The “gospel of gain” had eclipsed the “gospel of losing everything to gain Christ”. It was going to cost the Laodicean church something to walk in the Spirit and in fidelity to the word of God.
The Lord stated that they needed the true gold of a living faith.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 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. 1 Peter 1:6-7
The goal to live a life of comfort produces a faith that uses the Scriptures as validation that wealth and ease are products of true faith.
In the ungodly culture that the Laodicean church existed in, true faith and reliance upon the Scriptures would have caused the church to run counter to the motivation of those around it, not cause them to blend into the culture.
In itself, there was nothing wrong with the financial abundance of the church. But, remember what the apostle Paul taught the church about wealth:
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 2 Corinthians 9:10
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1Timothy 6:17-19
Back to Jesus’ counsel:
So, they were to buy gold refined in the fire.
Then, white clothes to cover their shameful nakedness. Can you imagine how many where dressed in this church? It might have looked like a fashion show when they met, yet Jesus said they were naked. White clothes in the Scriptures refer to the purity of Jesus and the righteous acts of the saints. The people in Laodicea profited from the black wool that was spun into the garments sold in the area. A trade needed to be made: purity and righteous living for profit!
Finally, Jesus counseled that they buy eye salve so they could see. Laodicea was famous for its medical facility that housed a famous ophthalmologist. The area also produced a powder that was used in healing balm for the eye. Jesus stated that they needed some so they could be healed of their spiritual blindness!
Even though nothing good was said about the church’s spiritual life in Laodicea, Jesus did say this:
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.
Love, fellowship and restoration is the motive of Christ’s command.
They will rule and reign with Christ and sit on Christ’s throne of authority.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches!!