Laodicea

OVERVIEW - The church at Laodicea receives no commendation, only corrections and warnings – Revelation 3:14-22

Roman Ruins Photo by Nicole Reyes on Unsplash
The city of 
Laodicea was founded around 260 B.C. and built on the site of a village named Diospolis - the “city of Zeus.” It was located about sixty-five kilometers southeast of Philadelphia, and one hundred and sixty kilometers to the east of Ephesus. It was close to the towns of Colossae and Hierapolis. Like the rest of the province, Laodicea came under Roman rule in 133 B.C. Because of its location at the confluence of three major trade routes, the city depended heavily on regional trade. It featured baths, a stadium, theaters, pagan temples, and a gymnasium. - [Photo by Nicole Reyes on Unsplash].

Laodicea produced a highly valued black wool which it used to produce cloth and carpets. It had a medical school reputed for an eye-salve called “Phrygian powder.” But the city lacked a good freshwater supply - local sources were brackish and lukewarm. Freshwater had to be piped in via aqueducts.

An earthquake destroyed much of the city in A.D. 60. Laodicea refused Roman financial assistance to rebuild, choosing to rely on its own resources. This was a matter of great civic pride, and perhaps a legacy reflected in the attitude of this church.

The church at Laodicea was formed early and is mentioned by the Apostle Paul. His co-worker, Epaphras, introduced the gospel to it. Paul wrote a letter to this church that was either lost or survives as the epistle to the Ephesians. The house churches of Laodicea, Colossae, and Hierapolis likely experienced similar problems, and Paul instructed the church at Colossae to share his letter with Laodicea - (Colossians 4:16).
  • (Revelation 3:14-22) - “And to the angel of the assembly in Laodicea, write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God: I know your works, that neither cold are you, nor hot: I would that you were cold or hot. Thus, because lukewarm you are, and neither hot nor cold, I am about to vomit you out of my mouth. Because you say, Rich am I, and have become enriched, and of nothing have I need, and know not that you are the wretched one, and pitiable and destitute and blind and naked, I counsel you to buy of me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white raiment, that you may array yourself, and the shame of your nakedness may not be made manifest, and eye-salve to anoint your eyes that you may see. I, as many as I tenderly love, I convict and put under discipline. Be zealous, therefore, and repent. Behold, I am standing at the door and knocking; if anyone shall hearken to my voice and open the door, I will come in unto him, and will sup with him, and he with me. He that overcomes, I will give to him to take his seat with me in my throne, as I also overcame and took my seat with my Father in his throne. He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the assemblies.”
The “Amen, the faithful and true witness.” “Amen” transliterates a Hebrew word with the root sense of strength and firmness - It denotes “faithfulness, firmness, fidelity, truthfulness.” It emphasizes Jesus as the faithful and true witness whose testimony is firm and utterly reliable, in contrast to the fickleness of the church and its ineffectual testimony.

The scriptural background of Christ’s claims is from the book of Isaiah where “amen” and the “creation of God” occur together. In Isaiah, Yahweh is the “faithful” God of Israel who announces the new creation:
  • (Isaiah 65:16-17) - “He who blesses himself in the earth will bless himself in the God of faithfulness (‘amén), and he who swears in the earth will swear by the God of faithfulness (‘amén), because the former troubles have been forgotten, and because they are hidden from my eyes. For, behold me, creating new heavens and a new earth.”
The resurrection of Jesus inaugurated the New Creation. He is the faithful witness to this new reality. This understanding is borne out by the earlier declaration that he is “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead.” Elsewhere, the New Testament links his resurrection to the new creation - (1 Corinthians 15:20-23, 2 Corinthians 5:15-17).

Church Cemetery Photo by Einar Storsul on Unsplash
Photo by Einar Storsul on Unsplash

He is “
the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.” “Firstborn” in Revelation refers to his preeminence, not to chronological sequence or priority - (Colossians 1:18 [“that in all things he might have the preeminence”]).

Jesus found nothing praiseworthy in this church. It was prosperous, in contrast to the impoverished assembly at Smyrna, or to the church with a little strength in Philadelphia. However, it was poor and naked in his eyes.

Neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm.” The description alludes to the poor water conditions at Laodicea. Located between Hierapolis with its thermal hot springs, and Colossae with its cooler freshwater sources, its water supply was tepid and good for nothing; so, too, the faith and testimony of its congregation.

Lukewarm waters stress uselessness. Cold water quenches thirst and water from hot springs has medicinal properties. Tepid water is of no benefit. This church did not recognize its precarious state (“you know not…”), and it presumed its material prosperity reflected its spiritual strength.

I am rich.” This is a verbal allusion to Hosea 12:8 - “So Ephraim said, ‘Surely I have gotten me riches, I have found wealth for myself in all my labors they shall find in me no iniquity.” Ancient Israel had attributed her material prosperity to her idols - (Hosea 2:5, 2:8).

Likewise, the church had acquired wealth by compromising with the city’s idolatrous culture. From a pragmatic perspective, the accommodation became necessary for full participation in the economic life of the city. Paradoxically, the church’s economic success was definitive evidence of her compromise and spiritual poverty.

The claim to be rich and need nothing echoes Babylon’s boast - “I am not a widow, and I will never mourn.” Despite her confidence, “in one day shall her plagues come, death and mourning and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire.” The church’s boast demonstrated that Babylon had infiltrated the assembly in Laodicea. It was at risk of partaking of the same plagues as the “Great Whore.” Likewise, if the church did not repent, Jesus would vomit it out of his mouth - (Revelation 18:7).
The condition of the church was the opposite of Smyrna - (“poor” in men’s eyes but “rich” in the eyes of Christ). In contrast, Laodicea was “poor, blind and naked.” She needed to “buy gold refined by fire, white raiment and eye-salve” to correct her deficiencies.
Gold refined by fire.” The image symbolizes refinement in the fires of persecution. That was the only kind of “gold” that would alleviate the church’s poverty. “White garments” point to purity achieved by faithful perseverance - (Revelation 2:9, 3:4-5, 6:11, 7:9-14).

Eye-salve was needed to heal spiritual blindness, to see the church’s true state, and to make the necessary corrections. Undoubtedly, this alludes to the locally produced eye-salve for which Laodicea was famous.

The exhortation to buy white raiment is echoed in the “sixth bowl of wrath” where it is heard in the middle of the last three bowl judgments against the “beast” and “Babylon.” This illustrated just who and what was the source of the idolatrous institutions of Laodicea, and how horrific the potential fate was facing the congregation if it did not repent.
  • (Revelation 16:15) - “I come as a thief! Blessed is he who watches and keeps his garments, lest he be walking naked, and they see his shame.”
The declaration of the “tender love” and “discipline” of Jesus demonstrated this church was not beyond redemption - There was still time to become “zealous and repent.” By renewing fellowship with Christ, the church could become an effective witness for him, though doing so meant inevitable resistance from a pagan society.

Overcoming Christians are destined to share in the reign of Jesus. However, like him, this is achieved by enduring tribulation, suffering, and even death. Just as he overcame and attained authority to rule from the Throne through death, so his followers must do likewise - (“To him who overcomes will I grant to sit in my throne, just as I also overcame to sit with my Father in his throne”).




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