The Church at Laodicea

3: 14-22

   DIG: What does the faithful and true witness see when He looks at the Laodicean church? How does the church view itself? Why the contrast? What does Jesus tell them to do in 3:18? Why? What does this say about true wealth? Why does Christ say: I wish you were one or the other? What door is the Lord speaking about in 3:20? How would you describe Messiah, based on what you have read so far in this book? How does this broaden the picture in the Gospels?

   REFLECT: If Yeshua took your spiritual temperature today, what would He find? Are you hot? Cold? Or lukewarm? The Laodiceans had great wealth but were spiritually poor. Do you spend far more time and money on yourself rather than others (Matthew 6:19-21)? The Laodiceans were self-sufficient. Do you hide your needs from friends, family and church or messianic synagogue out of embarrassment (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)? The Laodiceans were blinded by their own spiritual sin. Do you compare your spiritual life and growth to that of others rather than to the perfect standard of Christ? The Laodiceans thought their lives were clothed in good deeds. Do you walk the walk, or merely talk the talk? If you were put on trail for being a believer in Messiah Yeshua, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

    Perhaps the most tragic theme of all time is the story of Israel’s continual rebellion against ADONAI. The Jewish people were the recipients of unprecedented spiritual privileges (Romans 9:4-5). God chose them from all the peoples of the earth, rescued them from Egypt, brought them to the Promised Land, loved them, cared for them and protected them (Deuteronomy 4:37, 7:7-8). Yet, they have continually rebelled against Him, which brought grief to His heart (Isaiah 5:3; Psalm 78:40; Ezekiel 6:9).

    Sadly, the same thing can be seen in the true universal Church. There are many people in churches, even entire congregations, who are lost. They may be sincere, zealous, and outwardly religious, but they reject the truth of the Gospel. They have all the rich New Covenant teachings about Christ’s life, death and resurrection. But they neither believe it or obey it. As a result, they are doomed, just like unbelieving Israel. Paul described them as those having a form of godliness, but denying its power. He wisely counseled believers to have nothing to do with them (Second Timothy 2:24).

    The church in Laodicea represents such apostate churches that have existed throughout history. It is the last and worst of all of the seven churches addressed by our Lord. The downhill spiral that began in Ephesus, and continued through Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis, reached the bottom at Laodicea. Even at Sardis there were a small group of true believers left. However, in the church at Laodicea very few were saved (3:14a). It has the grim distinction of being the only one of the seven for whom the Messiah has no positive word of commendation. Thus, due to the drastic nature of the situation there, this is the most threatening letter of the seven.117

    1. The description of Christ: The Lord did not identify Himself with any of the phrases from the vision in 1:12-17. Instead, He described Himself using three divine names. First, Yeshua identifies Himself as the Amen (3:14b). This title is used only here in the Bible. It is a transliteration of the Hebrew word meaning truth. Isaiah 65:16 refers to the Lord as the God of Truth, literally the God of Amen, a Hebrew word acknowledging the truthfulness of something. Therefore, Amen is used in the Scriptures to affirm the truthfulness of a statement (Numbers 5:22; Matthew 6:13; Mark 9:1; Luke 4:24; John 1:51, 3:11, 5:19; Romans 16:27; First Corinthians 16:24). The idea is that He is not the true God in contrast to false gods, but that Messiah is the faithful One, who can be trusted to keep all of the promises of ADONAI.118

    Secondly, whatever God says is true, therefore, He is the Faithful and True Witness (3:14c). He is completely trustworthy because He always speaks the truth. He is completely reliable. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6). In this way He affirmed to the unbelievers at Laodicea that His word could be accepted as absolute authority. Unlike the Laodiceans, Christ is no hypocrite.

    Finally, Messiah referred to Himself as the beginning of God’s creation, capable of bringing judgment upon them if they did not repent (3:14d NKJ). In their attack on the deity of Christ, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ have two basic arguments. First, Jesus cannot be God because He had a beginning. In other words, He was created. Secondly, they teach that Yeshua cannot be God because the Bible shows that He is inferior to ADONAI. In support of their two arguments, they have eight primary passages of scripture. Three of those verses are used to try to prove that Jesus was created, and the other five try to prove that He is inferior to God the Father. Of those which are supposed to prove that Yeshua had a beginning, one of the scriptures they misinterpret is in the TaNaKh, Proverbs 3:14, and the other two they misinterpret are in the New Covenant, Colossians 1:15 and Revelation 3:15.

    The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ use their own New World Translation of the Bible. The NWT reads, “And to the angel of the congregation in Laodicea write: These are the things that the Amen says, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation by God . . .” Jehovah’s Witnesses will interpret this statement to mean that Jesus was the first thing that ADONAI created. This is a clear example of the Jehovah's Witnesses' misunderstanding the meaning of Biblical words. They look at the word beginning in that verse, and assume that it means the first part of something, or the start of something. For example, if I say to you, “I am going to New York at the beginning of the week,” you will automatically assume that I am going at the first part of the week. But the word beginning has another meaning as well. The Greek word arche, or beginning, does not mean that Messiah was the first person ADONAI created, but rather that Christ Himself is the source, or origin, of God’s creation. Through His power everything was created (John 1:3 and Hebrews 1:2). So here, in Revelation 3:14, we learn that Yeshua is the source of God’s creation.119

    The letter to the church in Laodicea had much in common with Paul’s letter to the Colossian church. Colosse was not far from Laodicea, so it is likely that the same heresy plagued both. Gnosticism taught that Messiah was created, and the Gnostics (from the Greek word gnosis, meaning knowledge), believed that they possessed a secret, spiritual knowledge above that of the Bible. To confront that heresy, the apostle Paul wrote: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:15-17). This Gnostic heresy was the reason the church in Laodicea was dead. False teaching about Christ, especially the denial of His deity, is the trademark of every cult in the world today.

   2. The church: Because of its worldly success, the church at Laodicea had become indifferent to its spiritual need. The letter makes no mention of persecution from the Roman officials or trouble from the Gentiles. But doubting the Word of God, it had embraced the humanistic philosophy of Gnosticism. The neighboring church at Colosse, to whom Paul had written to thirty years earlier, had urgently been warned to resist all such humanistic philosophies. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than Messiah (Colossians 2:8). The church at Laodicea, however, had been completely taken captive by the basic principles of Gnosticism.

    Like the other six churches, it was likely founded during the time Rabbi Sha'ul spent at Ephesus during his third missionary journey (Acts 19:10). There is no evidence, however, that Paul ever visited Colosse, but he did write a letter to the church at Laodicea (Colossians 4:16). Perhaps the fact that their letter is now lost demonstrates how little good it did them. Since Epaphras, Paul’s partner in ministry, founded the church in nearby Colosse (Colossians 1:6-7), he may have also founded the Laodicean church as well (3:14). Here Yeshua found this church only worthy of condemnation and encouragement; He did not praise them for anything.

   3. The city: Laodicea was located about forty miles southeast of Philadelphia. There was a cluster of three cities, Hieropolis, Colosse, and Laodicea, which was the main city of the Roman province named Phrygia. Also located at the junction of two important imperial trade routes and completed the circle of seven churches. The first trade route led east a hundred miles to Ephesus and beyond, and the second from Pergamum to the Mediterranean. Five of the seven cities to which John wrote lay in order along this second trade route (Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea).120 Located on a plateau several hundred feet high, it seemed to be invincible. But in reality, it was extremely vulnerable because it had to bring its water supply from several miles away through an underground aqueduct that could easily be blocked by attacking forces before the Roman peace. Because of this vulnerability, they had to learn the art of appeasement.

    It was founded about the middle of the third century BC by Antiochus II and was named after his first wife Laodice. Since he divorced her in 253 BC, the city was probably founded before that date. Though its original settlers were largely from Syria, a significant number of Jews also settled there. They lived a life of luxury and ease in Laodicea.

    Not unlike Wall Street, Laodicea was the major banking center of Asia Minor because of its favorable location. This meant it attracted people with means and became the wealthiest city in Phrygia. The Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero cashed his letters of credit there, indicating its importance as a banking center. The city had so much gold that it paid for its own reconstruction after the devastating earthquake in 60 AD, rejecting offers of financial aide from Rome.121 They were very proud of that, and money continued to flow freely through its streets, reflected in its buildings, its businesses, and, yes, in its church.

    The fertile soil of the Lycus valley provided excellent grazing for unusual flocks of sheep. They were black, not white. By careful breeding, soft, glossy black wool was used to produce clothes to wear. It was in much demand and made the city famous. Laodicea also had a flourishing medical school that was especially noted for its “Phrygian powder.” They claimed when mixed with oil that was used as an eye salve and would cure Oriental eye diseases.122 All three industries, gold, wool and medicine, are used by the Lord to make His point to the church in Laodicea.

   4. The commendation: The church of Laodicea has the dubious distinction of being the only one whose conduct was so unacceptable that even Jesus, who knew all about them, could not find one positive thing to say about them. The church was almost entirely lost. The few believers there were “closet Christians,” not wanting anyone to find out about their faith.

   5. The concern: Because there was nothing for which to commend this spiritually dead church, the Lord went right into His concerns. Jesus said to them: I know your deeds. Deeds always reveal a person’s true spiritual condition. Yeshua declared: By their fruit you will recognize them (Matthew 7:16). Although salvation is by faith alone, deeds either prove or refute the presence of genuine salvation. James, the brother of Christ, asked this question: What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds (James 2:14)? The grammatical form of the question demands a negative response. No, it cannot save. Spiritual fruit is not the means to salvation, but spiritual fruit is the evidence of salvation, and there was very little evidence of spiritual fruit in the Laodicean church.

    Jesus reprimanded them because they were neither cold not hot but lukewarm. He said: I wish you were either one or the other (3:15)! This symbolic language comes from Laodicea’s own water supply. Since they had to bring it from several miles away through an underground aqueduct, the water came to them polluted, dirty and lukewarm. It was not hot and relaxing like the hot springs at Hierapolis. Nor was it cold and refreshing like the brooks of Colosse. So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I AM about to spit you out of My mouth (3:16). The distinction between hot, cold and lukewarm can be determined by the overall context. The hot are the truly saved believers. The cold are those who are not believers and do not claim to be believers. The lukewarm are those who claim to believe in Yeshua the Messiah, but there is shortage of any spiritual fruit.123 Some churches make the Lord cry, others make Him angry, but this lukewarm church made Him sick.

    Their limited amount of spiritual fruit was compounded by their self-deception. The church at Laodicea boasted that it was healthy and prosperous, saying: I am rich. I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But Jesus contradicted them by saying: You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked (3:17). They were characterized by richness in worldly things, but also self-deception, for they were spiritually poor, blind and naked. Not only did the church boast in their supposed spiritual well-being, they boasted that they had acquired their wealth by their own efforts. Spiritual complacency was accompanied by spiritual pride.124 Their belief in Gnosticism led them to believe that they had a higher level of spiritual knowledge. They looked down on the unsophisticated who were satisfied with the teachings of the Bible and the Person of Messiah.

    The church in Laodicea is also a very good description of the apostate church, Mystery Babylon, during the Great Tribulation. Only those few who secretly aided the Jews would become the sheep Gentiles of the Great Tribulation and enter into the messianic Kingdom (see Fb – The Sheep and the Goats). Like the sheep Gentiles of the Great Tribulation, if anyone did accept Christ as their Lord and Savior, they wanted to keep it a secret.

    Apostasy can be defined as the departure from the truth that one professes to have. It does not mean that the apostate actually possesses the truth. Rather, it is a departure from the truth he profess to have because of an affiliation with a particular denomination. For example, a minister of a Baptist, Presbyterian or Methodist Church is professing, by virtue of his very position, to believe in the doctrines of the Baptist, Presbyterian or Methodist Church respectively. But actually the apostates deny these doctrines and has departed from the truth that they professes to have.

    Rabbi Sha'ul clearly taught that there would be an apostasy of many outwardly religious people in the last days before the Second Coming. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way for [the Day of the Lord] will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed (Second Thessalonians 2:3). The Greek word for the rebellion is apostosia, which can be translated the apostasy. The man of lawlessness, or the antichrist, will be revealed during the time of the Great Tribulation. At that time, the Mystery Babylon will only have a form of godliness, having denied the power God (Second Timothy 3:5).

   6. The command: Of course, the Lord could have easily destroyed this apostate church. Instead, He graciously offered them salvation. But He used the three things that the Laodiceans were most proud of, their wealth, their wool industry and their eye salve. As an alternative, Yeshua offered them spiritual gold, spiritual clothes and spiritual sight. Of course, Christ did not teach that salvation could be bought by our good deeds. Because of our sin nature, we have nothing with which to buy our salvation (Isaiah 64:5-6). We can only repent, and offer our pitiful, lost condition in exchange for Messiah’s righteousness. He knew the Laodiceans were far too undisciplined to obey orders, so here He did not command them, but advised them to buy three things, all of which picture true salvation.

    First, the Lord encouraged them to buy gold refined in the fire, so that they might become rich (3:18a). Although its banking industry had material wealth, the church lacked spiritual richness.125 They needed gold that was free of impurities that could only be refined by true salvation. Peter wrote of a faith much greater than gold (First Peter 1:7). Therefore, Yeshua offered the Laodiceans a relationship with Him that was far greater than any wealth that they thought they possessed.

    Secondly, the Lord advised them to buy the spiritually white clothes of righteousness, so that they could cover their shameful spiritual nakedness (3:18b). Those holy clothes can only be purchased by faith in the blood of Christ. Laodicea’s famous black woolen cloth symbolized the dirty, sinful clothes that those who have rejected the Messiah wear (Isaiah 64:6; Zechariah 3:3-4). They needed to exchange their filthy rags for the white clothes of salvation (3:4-5, 4:4, 6:11, 7:9-14, 19:14).

    Finally, the Messiah offered them salve to put on their spiritual eyes, so they could see their true condition (3:18c). Confident of their clear vision into spiritual matters, it seemed that the Laodiceans needed their own eye salve to restore their spiritual sight. Blindness represents lack of understanding and knowledge of spiritual truth (Matthew 23:16-17; Luke 6:39; John 9:40-41; Romans 2:19; Second Corinthians 4:4; First John 2:11). Like all lost people, the Laodiceans needed to open their eyes and turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they could receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith (Acts 26:18).

    Some argue that the language of Christ’s direct appeal to the Laodiceans: Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline (3:19a NASB), indicates that this was a believing church. The context in verses 18 and 20, however, points to the fact that most were lost. The Messiah has a unique and special love for those who believe in Him. Yet such passages as Mark 10:21 and John 3:16 reveal that He also loves those who have rejected Him. To reprove means to expose and convict. It is a general term for God’s dealing with sinners (John 3:18-20, 16:8; First Corinthians 14:24; Titus 1:9; Jude 15). Discipline refers to punishment (Luke 23: 16 and 22) and is used of ADONAI’s convicting of unbelievers (Second Timothy 2:25). So the terminology of this verse does not demand that Christ be referring to believers. The Lord compassionately, tenderly called those in this lost church to come to saving faith. But in order for the Laodiceans to be saved they would need to be earnest and repent (3:19b). The message to them, as it is to all the unsaved, is to passionately pursue the repentance that leads to life (Acts 11:18 NASB).

    Jesus said to these apostate Gnostics: Here I AM! I stand at the door and knock (3:20a). Although this passage has been used in countless tracts and sermons to picture the Lord knocking on the door of the sinner’s heart, it is much more specific than that. The door on which Christ is knocking is not the door of a single human heart, but to the whole Laodicean church.

    Here I AM! I stand at the door and knock (3:20a). The present tense indicates continual knocking. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to [the church] and eat with that person, and they with Me (3:20b NASB and NIV). The Greek phrase for I will come in to is eiseleusomai pros. Note the space between the prepositions. The idea of come into would be expressed with eij as the independent preposition and would suggest a penetration into the person. However, spatially pros means toward, not into. In all eight instances of eiserchomai pros in the New Covenant, the meaning is come in toward or enter a building, house, etc., never penetration into the person himself or herself. In some instances, such a view would not only be absurd, but inappropriate (Mark 6:25, 15:43; Luke 1:28; Acts 10:3, 11:3, 16:40, 17:2 and 28:8).

    Messiah was outside, wanting to come in to the apostate church to bring spiritual life. Something that could only happen if they would repent. But for virtually all of them, their pride, self-sufficiency and hypocrisy had kept Him at arm’s length. The picture of Jesus standing outside the church wanting to come in points to the sad fact that there were merely a few undercover believers in that city.126

    God’s readiness to receive repentant sinners, well known from the TaNaKh (Zechariah 1:3) and restated in the B'rit Chadashah, is the basis for what Yeshua says in this verse: If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to [the church] and eat with that person, and they with Me (3:20b). Unlike most guests, here, the Lord provides the food, the spiritual nourishment that gives the strength needed to repent. The metaphor of meal-sharing (Luke 15:2; John 14:23; Acts 11:3) is appropriate to Jewish and most other cultures, where fellowship around a meal implies affection, intimacy and mutual confidence. In short, Jesus is promising to be intimately and truly present with anyone who genuinely asks Him, Jew or Gentile alike. But the Laodiceans, in their blind self-sufficiency, had, in effect, excommunicated Messiah from their church. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ (Romans 8:9b). But even though almost all of them were apostates, He urged them to repent and have fellowship with Him before judgment came. Life has many choices. Eternity has only two. What’s yours?

   7. The counsel: Yeshua presents Himself as the model for anyone who wants to win the victory over evil, temptation and apathy: To him who overcomes, 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 (3:21). This is an amazing demonstration of grace. The apostates who were about to be spit out of the Lord’s mouth were invited to sit with Him on His Father’s throne. To have a relationship with the Messiah for all eternity is blessing enough, but He offers more. He promises to sit believers on the same throne that He shares with the Father (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:29 -30). This symbolizes the truth that we will rule and reign with Him (Second Timothy 2:12; Revelation 5:10, 20:6).

    Notice again that all seven of the promises to overcomers are descriptions of His Second Coming and the Eternal State (see Bf - The Eternal State), where all will be fulfilled. So, the tree of life was promised to the Ephesians (2:8 and 22:2), deliverance from the second death to the believers at Smyrna (2:10c and 20:6), a new name was promised at Pergamum (2:17c and 22:4), the Morning Star to the Thyatirans (2:28 and 22:16), white clothing to the believers at Sardis (3:5a and 19:8), the New Jerusalem to believers at Philadelphia (3:12c and 21:2), and the ability to share His throne with the apostate Laodiceans if they would only trust in Him (20:4).

    Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches (3:22). The message to the apostate church is obvious: repent (turn around and go in a different direction) of your sin before it is too late and judgment falls. For believers, the message is also clear. We must see the lost through our Father’s eyes and call them to repent and accept Jesus Christ as their Savior (Jude 23).

    Yeshua, I confess that without your generosity I too would be wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. But You have lavished Your gifts upon me. In gratitude and love, I want to give it all back to You. I want to be your instrument in this world. Come, Lord, and use me for Your glory.127

    The church at Laodicea is a picture of the Apostate Church Age that will last for seven years during the Great Tribulation. When the Lord comes back He will set up His Messianic Kingdom that will last a thousand years. Laodicea represents the final form of the worldly church, Mystery Babylon, which is rejected by the Lord and spit out of His mouth because of its profession of faith in the antichrist. The true Church ends with the Philadelphian Age, which is removed from the earth according to the promise of 3:10 before the Great Tribulation begins. The false church, from which the true will be separated by the Rapture (First Thessalonians 4:17), is left behind, rejected by the Lord and spit into the 70th Week of Daniel (Dani'el 9:24-27).128 Laodicea means, people ruling, in contrast to Jesus ruling His Church. In the Great Tribulation, there will be a counterfeit church entirely ruled by counterfeit men, for the Holy Spirit will no longer restrain it. This journey has been very interesting, but it was nothing compared to what will be coming next in the Revelation of Jesus Christ. We will be taking a trip to heaven (see Cd – And There Before Me was a Throne in Heaven).

 

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