Sermon: Letters to Seven Churches (Part Eleven): Laodicea
The Curse of Eternal Security
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 22-Jun-19; 75 minutes
Throughout this series we have considered various types of communications, specifically those that are sent through the mail. Letters is what I have mostly been talking about. One that we have not talked about as yet is a variety of letter that may just be the most popular of letters, if not one that most people would think of first when you ask them to tell you what kind of letter would you think of? So here we come to it at the last: the love letter.
There have been many famous love letters. You can easily go out on the Web and find sites that present them, give you a whole list of them. And they are interesting to read. They do not mean much anymore to people who are not involved in those relationships at all, but they range from senders like Johnny Cash and Jimi Hendrix. I am not saying that they are sending letters to these people, but this is the range of people. King Henry the Eighth and Gerald Ford, from Richard Burton to Ernest Hemingway. All kinds of people have written love letters and they have been preserved, and we can now read them. I found a few. I thought I would quote some of them so that you can just get the tone. Of course, you understand the tone, but it is interesting to read some of these.
Here is Abigail Adams to her husband John Adams in 1782.
My dearest friend, Should I draw you the picture of my heart, it would be what I hope you would still love, though it contained nothing new. The early possession you obtained there and the absolute power you have obtained over it leaves not the smallest space unoccupied. I look back to the early days of our acquaintance and friendship as to the days of love and innocence and with an indescribable pleasure. I have seen near a score of years roll over our heads with an affection heightened and improved by time. Nor have the dreary years of absence in the smallest degree, effaced from my mind, the image of the dear untitled man to whom I gave my heart.
Now that woman was a writer! She knew how to put words one after another. The rest of them that I picked out are much shorter.
Here is Napoleon Bonaparte to Josephine de Beauharnais in 1796, you know, his dear Josephine: "The charms of the incomparable Josephine kindle continually a burning and a glowing flame in my heart." Was Napoleon not a romantic?
Here is Ludwig van Beethoven to his immortal beloved, whom we still do not know exactly who it was, in 1812. "Love demands everything and that very justly. Thus it is to me with you and you with me."
Finally, Winston Churchill. Who could ever love Winston Churchill? He was kind of an ugly guy, but he had a good mind at least. Winston Churchill to his wife, Clementine, in 1935. "Time passes swiftly, but is it not joyous to see how great and growing is the treasure we have gathered together amid the storms and stresses of so many eventful, and to millions, tragic and terrible years."
Now we can ooh and ah over such letters and perhaps feel a kind of relief and optimism that real love exists out there in the world, although these are from a long time ago. But I am sure people have the same sentiments today. But there is another kind of love letter not so great that is much more difficult to write. It is the love letter from the ardent sender to an ignorant or uncaring recipient. I am talking about the unrequited love letter. Sometimes, like the quote I am going to give you from poet and novelist Sylvia Plath, who was a psychological mess because of situations like this and others, and in the end she committed suicide. But sometimes these letters are written to a confidante rather than to the person who they love. Here is her quote, which she wrote to a friend. "When you give someone your whole heart and he doesn't want it, you cannot take it back. It's gone forever."
Here is one that I found to be interesting. I did not know this about her, but this is from Charlotte Bronte, the author of Jane Eyre. She carried a torch for an older man, a professor named Constantin Héger who had taught her French literature and as well had taught Emily Bronte at a school in Brussels. This is what she wrote,
Monsieur, the poor have not need of much to substain [sic] them. They ask only for the crumbs that fall from the rich man's table. But if they are refused the crumbs, they die of hunger. Nor do I either need much affection from those I love. I should not know what to do with a friendship entire and complete. I'm not used to it. But you showed me of your little interest when I was your pupil in Brussels and I hold on to the maintenance of that little interest. I hold on to it as I would hold on to life.
And this has a very sad ending because he did not return her affection at all and in fact, he tore up her letters, though they were not thrown away, which is kind of interesting.
I gave you these because this is similar to what we see in Christ's epistle to the church of the Laodiceans. He writes out of deep love for them to turn them back to Him, to make some kind of loving response to Him and His way of life. He writes this letter to give them one more chance to reciprocate His love before the consequences of His unrequited love crashed down on them. They were this close to having His judgment fall upon them. And so He sent a letter out of love to turn them back.
Obviously, today we are going to be studying into Christ's very urgent letter to the Laodiceans. As I have repeatedly stressed throughout this series (and it has gone to eleven parts. Can you believe it?), we have been treating these letters not as prophecies but as epistles. Like the epistles of Paul and the epistles of Peter and the epistles of John and James and Jude. We are not trying to fit Christ's words into any extant church or group of people or even to eras. But we are trying to understand and use His insights into these churches to discern and overcome our faults, our problems, our sins, and so be found worthy to be in His Kingdom at His return.
If you would, please turn back with me to the book of Revelation, chapter 3. We are going to, as we have done in the past, go ahead and read the full section, the full letter, and then I will go back and give you some background, and then we will get into some of the nitty gritty of what is said there. But you have been preached the letter to the Laodiceans quite a bit, so like the letter to the Philadelphians, I am not going to go over this word by word or even phrase by phrase. I am going to hit the high points again and try to lead toward a conclusion here about what specifically Christ is looking for.
Revelation 3:14 "And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, . . .
By the way, just in passing, they are always called "the church of the Laodiceans," which is kind of significant to my mind. Even when they are mentioned in the book of Colossians, it is called "the church of the Laodiceans." Take that as you will, but normally it was the church in Philadelphia, the church in Ephesus, the church in Smyrna, etcetera. And this one is a little different and makes me wonder if if there is purpose to it.
Revelation 3:14-22 . . . 'These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish that you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich, and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. 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 into him and dine with him, and He with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."'"
This letter was written to those people in a city called Laodicea. Laodicea was founded in about 260 BC. No one knows exactly when, they just know that it was during the time of the Seleucid King Antiochus the Second who lived during that period, and they know that it had to come at a certain point because he named it after his wife, Laodice. (Actually, the name of the city should be Lao-di-kay or lay-ah-di-kay rather than how we put the "s" sound in there, lay-oh-di-see-ah.) But we know that it was before 253 because he divorced her at that point and took another wife. So it was somewhere before 253 and most people say, somewhere around 260 when he still loved her.
But it sat at the intersection of a major east-west road, a highway that ran from Ephesus and then went through Laodicea and then went further east toward Babylon and that area in the east. And then there was another major north-west highway that went right through it as well. So it was at this very important crossroads. This road went from north of Sardis and then it went through Laodicea and down to the southern coast of Asia Minor. So there were goods and people traveling along these two major roads all the time and they brought their wealth into Laodicea. Laodicea did the trading. They did the taxation, they did whatever they did, and it became a very wealthy trading city.
Now its own wealth came from the banking industry. It is kind of like Charlotte which has a lot of banks, people put their money there, people do a lot of trade there, and the coffers just grew and grew, As a matter of fact, important Roman officials, when they were traveling there, would come to Laodicea and be able to pull money out, traveling money or whatever they might need, from the banks at Laodicea.
They also had a unique black wool from the sheep there, or goats. I am not exactly sure which it was. I do not know if I have ever seen which it was, but everybody around the Empire wanted it. It was amazing. I guess this black wool was different from dyed wool. This was actual natural black wool. And so they would sell the wool or make clothing made of that wool and get quite a profit from that.
And thirdly, it had a very thriving, cutting-edge-for-the time, medical school, and they sold both ear and eye ointments. The scripture mentions an eye salve but they worked with both. People who do this sort of thing think that the hot springs that were around there would, the water would calcify, and they would use some of that in their salve. It would be like this is spa-made eye salve or spa-made salve so they made a lot of money with that.
It was so rich that when a terrible earthquake came through there in AD 60 and flattened the city, nothing was standing there, and unlike the other cities of the region they did not have to beg for aid from Rome. In fact, they refused aid from Rome when it was offered, telling the Romans that they did not need anything. Sound familiar? They did not need anything from the Romans. They could do it themselves.
Laodicea, biblically and geographically (but we like to think of these things in terms of what we have learned from Scripture), sits between two biblical cities Hierapolis, which is six miles to the north, and Colossae, which is 10 miles to the east. It was thought that these three cities were evangelized by the same man, Epaphras, not Paul. Paul went on through this area and went to Ephesus. And it was thought that while he was there at Ephesus, that he sent Epaphras out to evangelize these cities. So it was sometime in what is called his third missionary journey, roughly 54, 55, 56 AD.
Let us go to Colossians 4 because I want you to see here these three cities side by side by side, and what is interesting is that in Scripture they are almost always mentioned together—Hierapolis, Laodicea, and Colossae. They seemed like a triad of cities. We have the Twin Cities up there in Minnesota. Well, here they had the three cities. Or three rivers, like in Pittsburgh. They had three of these fairly major cities all right next to each other.
Colossians 4:12-18 Epaphras, who is one of you [he is writing to the Colossians.], a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you [just notice some of the wording here. It is kind of interesting in terms of the letter to Laodicea.], and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis. Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you. Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas [actually, probably should be Nympha] and the church that is in [her] house. Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodicean [there is that title again, the church of the Laodiceans], and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, "Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it." This salutation by my own hand—Paul. Remember my chains. Grace be with you all. Amen.
I read that last bit because this could kind of give you some of the feel for this church. If you would go back to verse 9, you will see that Onesimus is one of the ones that was with Paul at the time and he is being sent to Colossae. Well, that was by design because, as he says here, "Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother who is one of you." So Onesimus came from Colossae, from this very area. And if Onesimus was from this area, then Philemon, his master, was also from Colossae. Now let us go to Philemon. That is right before Hebrews.
Philemon 1-2 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house.
What we see here is there is a relationship between Onesimus (we will put Onesimus in there as the family slave), and Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus. They are father, mother, and son, most people think. So Archippus would be the son of Philemon and as Paul says at the end of Colossians, Archippus was a minister in the area, and most people who look at this say that he was likely the pastor of the church of the Laodiceans. Perhaps Philemon was the one there in Colossae, his son was in Laodicea, and I do not know who it was in Hierapolis. But it seems like that is what was happening here; that all of these people that we are familiar with from the New Testament were part of the history of the church of the Laodiceans.
Just to go over that: Epaphras was the one that had first gone there and evangelized. He set up three churches, one in each of these three cities, and then he chose people out of those that God called there to be part of the leadership of these churches, these congregations, among them Philemon and Archippus. And then later on, Onesimus went back there and joined his former master in the church there. So, we are familiar with the background of this area quite a bit even if you did not know that that is exactly where they came from.
Now the city of Laodicea had its share of pagan deities, and other than Zeus or Jupiter and the Emperor cults, the most significant deity that was worshipped in this area was one called Men Karou. It was a local Phrygian god and the Men Karou is actually a little bit of Phrygian that has come down to us. But we know this god better as Asclepius, the God of medicine of the Greeks. So they worshipped mostly Asclepius, Zeus, and the Emperor there.
Laodicea also had a significant Jewish population but we do not have to worry about them for this letter. The Jews elsewhere often criticized the Jews of Laodicea. They called them Hellenized Jews. They called them the equivalent of Jews in name only, and they called them lax and impious. They were a lot like all the rest of the Laodiceans and the way the Christians in Laodicea were. The whole city was infected by this particular problem that was there. Not directed necessarily at Christ but they were just like the rest of the Laodiceans or they they had the same Laodicean attitude that the Christians there had. But like I said, local religion has little bearing on Christ's letter to the Laodicean Christians. It is nice to know the kind of the background there.
Now let us get to the heart of this background here. A lot has been made about Laodicea's water supply. It is usually one of the first things that is brought up when anybody talks about Laodicea. It had no local springs. I mean, here they built this city and they knew it would grow but they did not give it an adequate water supply. They were more interested in money. Remember, this was a crossroads. It had to be here that this one road crossed another. So they put a city there and they gave it water, but they did not do a very good job. It had no local springs or a convenient river. It did have a river. The Lycus river flowed right by it. But it was muddy and undrinkable, and worse yet it dried up in the summer.
The water had to be piped in. And it was piped in by aqua duct from an abundant hot water spring five miles to the south. So Hierapolis was five or six miles to the north and then there was Laodicea, and then there was another place five miles to the south, where they brought the water in from there. They could not take Hierapolis' water because Hierapolis needed it. So they had to find it somewhere else and it was this very abundant spring to the south of them. But in shipping it across country like that, even in buried pipes, when it arrived at Laodicea, the water was lukewarm.
Not only that, the water had a very high mineral content. In fact, if you look at some of the pictures or even go over to Laodicea, you can see the pipes that are exposed now and they are all calcified inside. They started out 12 inches around for water to flow through and by the time Laodicea finally went out of existence, there was just two or three inches of space there for the water to go through. So having such a high mineral content, most people thought it tasted funny, did not taste real good. So they had water. They had lukewarm water, but it did not taste good and it did make some people vomit when they drank it. It was just that bad.
Hierapolis, as I mentioned, five to six miles away, had 95 degree water that came out of their springs there, and it was great because they had lots of therapeutics spas. They had a bathhouse and all that stuff and they did not have to heat that water up. But it was the same as Laodicea's water in that it also had a very high mineral content. Colossae, on the other hand, 10 miles to the east, had beautiful, abundant, cold water that was very refreshing. We will talk a little bit more about this later when we get into the text of the letter.
Overall, Laodicea was a grand, wealthy city, as long as you did not mind drinking wine all the time, or something else, it was a fine city to live in. It was full of can-do spirit. Americans would have loved it there. We would have jumped right in and start putting up businesses and doing this and that, just getting into the spirit of this thriving, wealthy, can-do city. They were, you could say, the Americans of Asia Minor because their primary spirit was self-reliance. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, go out there and do for yourselves and make a lot of money and start your own dynasty. That sort of thing.
All, or most of its people there in Laodicea, were focused on making money and living the good life. Contrary to what many people believe, Laodiceans were not lazy at all. They were not lackadaisical. Like I said, they were can-do people. They were entrepreneurs. They were out there every day on the streets doing what they needed to do to make money, to make a name for themselves. They were go-getters.
Its problem was its widespread materialism and over-the-top self-sufficiency. I mean, we look at what they did when the Romans said, "Hey, do you need money to rebuild?" "Nope. We're going to do it ourselves. We're not going to have the money, but we won't also have all the strings that are attached to that money. We're going to do it ourselves and make ourselves a grand city. And you're not going to be able to say, 'Hey, I had any part in this.' No, it's going to be fully Laodicean, it's going to be our city."
If you think of materialism and self-sufficiency, are those things that Christ is looking for? No. In fact, they are exactly the opposite of things Christ is looking for. Christ is looking for spirituality, and He is looking for faith and reliance in Him, not in oneself. So the curse of the city was that they had an attitude, a spirit, that was exactly opposite to what God was looking for. And so the Laodiceans there, whether they understood it or not, had a lot to overcome. They were constantly being bombarded by the city that they lived in and all its people wanting all these good things, all this materialism and thinking that they could do it all themselves. As we have learned lately from John 15:5, Christ says that we need Him to do the things that we need to do, which is produce fruit for God.
Let us start looking at this a little bit more closely verse by verse.
Revelation 3:14 "And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, 'These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the Creation of God.'
In Christ's identification of Himself to the Laodicean church, He sets up a dichotomy. It is a dichotomy between Himself and them. It was Him on one side and them on another. Essentially we could say that He is what they were not. He stood on one end and they stood on another, which is why He introduces Himself here, "Look at Me." He is saying. Not look at Me in terms of "Hey, turn your eyes to Me." He is trying to say, "Hey, notice what I'm all about. Notice My character." Because He first calls Himself, "These things says the Amen." Now amen is a Hebrew term. It had been taken over by the Greeks, but it is originally a Hebrew expression of affirmation so when somebody says something and people reply, "Amen," they are saying that they heard it. They agree with it, so be it. That is a pretty good translation of what the term in Hebrew should be. So be it.
Let us go back to Isaiah 65 and we will see that Isaiah, or God Himself actually, uses this of Himself back here in this prophecy.
Isaiah 65:16 [I am just breaking in here] So that he who blesses himself in the earth shall bless himself in the God of truth. . . .
This is not correctly translated. It should be the God of amen. Not necessarily truth. "So that he who blesses himself in the earth shall bless himself in the God of amen." So be it. God is identifying here Himself with this term that He is the "So Be It."
Isaiah 65:16-17 . . . And he who swears in the earth shall swear by the God of [amen.] [it is mentioned again.]; because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hidden from My eyes. [Then God says,] "For behold [I just want this for what is coming up in a moment.], I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind."
Here in Isaiah 65:16, Yahweh, God of the Old Testament, calls Himself the God of amen, the God of so be it. And by the time we get to Revelation 3, we find the same Person, Jesus Christ, resurrected and He is still going by the title. Thus says the Amen, the So Be It.
What does He mean there by being the So Be It? Well, what He is saying by that is that He is dependable and truthful. But more than that, not only being dependable and truthful, He keeps His word. If we wanted to, we could go back ten chapters here, to Isaiah 55:11 where very clearly this idea is brought out. He says, "So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it."
So we can trust in Him. We can rely on Him because if something is affirmed, then it will happen. And because He is affirming God and all He says is true, it will happen. Whatever He says will come to pass. Let me put this another way. Do you remember in the book of John where Jesus would say, "Verily, verily I say to you" or some modern translations have "Truly, truly I say to you" or even as the Good News Bible puts it, "I am telling you the truth." Well, that is what it means when He calls Himself the Amen, he is the Verily, Verily. He is the Truly, Truly. He is the One who never speaks anything that is untrue, and it is verified and validated and cannot be gainsaid.
This is what He hits the Laodiceans with first, this idea that He is the So Be It. What He says goes. What He says is true. What He says will come to pass. So He is really actually being, what we might think of it as kind of mean, that He has to hit them with this broadside first thing. But He wants to make sure they understand who they are dealing with here. It is very similar to Revelation 3:7 to what He said to the Philadelphians, but He said it to them in a much nicer way, much kinder way when He tells them "These things says He who is true."
Let us go on to the next one. He doubles up on the fact that He is the Amen by calling Himself the Faithful and True Witness. This is very similar to what He had just said is being the Amen, but it kind of spells it out a little bit further. What He is doing is He is pointing them to His own life of faithfulness to God and to His example of making a sacrificial witness. So He is the Faithful One, and He is the the sacrificial witness that is the model, that is the example, of the way His people should live. Not only does He say I speak the truth and I back up everything that I speak, He is saying that when I act, when I live, I am the same way. I am still faithful to God in everything that I do, and that I am willing to sacrifice Myself even to the death of the cross, to make the proper witness of God's way of life.
He is saying, "Look at Me," again. "I am the illustration of what I expect from My people." So not only out of His mouth, but what He does, how He works, how He walks in His life. He is giving them something to latch on to here as to how He expects them to live. We know from what we see in the Gospels, that Jesus was always glorifying the Father, and He was always obedient to God. They were His first priorities—to glorify His Father and to be obedient to His Father. And He was never distracted. Not by money, not by wine, not by position, not by fame. Not by prestige, not by possessions, not by women, not by entertainment, not by anything. He had one purpose, one focus. As He says in the Sermon on the Mount, His eye was single. That is the way He wants us to be in this world. God and His work were always first and foremost in His mind and in His behavior.
In addition, this is a point that I do not know if the Laodiceans caught or not, but if you think this through, what would come up would be a scripture like John 5:17, where He says, up to now "My Father has been working, and I have been working." He did not stop. He never rested, as it were, from doing the work of God. He always did it. There was never a time when He felt like He could just slough all that off and take a break. He is always working and that continues to this day. He is now always working. That is something He wanted the Laodiceans to understand—that He was at work right then, with them. That is why this letter.
Lastly, He calls himself the Beginning of the creation of God. This is the final nail in the coffin for the Laodiceans in terms of their relationship with Christ and why He had to shock them with this opening. Because the word "beginning" is not what you think it is. It is the Greek word arche, which means "the source" or "the origin" or "the initiating or beginning factor." He was the power, as it were, behind the creation. He was the source of the creation. He was the origin. He was the One who was doing the creating. So He says, "I'm the So Be It. I'm the model example. I'm the Creator God. Do you understand who you're dealing with?"
That is what He is telling the Laodiceans here. "I am the very Creator of all things. I am the one who has the right and the power to criticize and judge all of those who are in My creative process." As the Creator He had that authority. So He said, "Hey, you guys signed up to be My Father's children and I am working on you and you are not working." He is trying to tell them that "I see what you're doing. I know what you're doing." A matter of fact, that is the next thing He says. "I know your works," but He wants them to understand with this opening that He was very much aware of everything that was going on. They could try to hide this from Him but He knew exactly what they were like.
Let us go back to John 2. This was while He was a physical man on the earth and John says this about Him.
John 2:24 [These people were following Jesus] But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.
He had their number. He knew exactly what human nature was like, and He could look at people and He could know them. Look what He did to the rich young ruler. He knew what the rich young ruler was all about even before he went away sorrowful because he had great possessions. He knew what his problem was just by looking at him.
Let us go back to Hebrews the fourth chapter, where now we are talking about the glorified Christ and the Word of God here.
Hebrews 4:12-13 For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
This is what He is telling the Laodiceans. I am the truthful Judge. I am the one that bangs the gavel and says, "So be it. That's My judgment." I am the perfect example. I have lived it 33 and one-half years of life and done it perfectly. I am the Creator God who knows His creation intimately. I see everything you do. Do not try to fool Me. I am not deceived.
A very, very powerful opening that should have us shaking in our shoes because the same applies to us. We can deceive ourselves about our beliefs, our intentions, our motivations, but we cannot fool Him. Not once! He knows us inside and out, exactly what we are, even when we cannot see it. If we have deceived ourselves and cannot see our secret sins, or cannot see whatever it is, He can and He is right and just when He judges.
Revelation 3:15-17 "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish that you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked."
This was their problem. Their problem was that they had works that were neither hot nor cold. The real problem was that Jesus knew that their works were neither hot nor cold. They were on the hot seat because of it. They were directly in His line of fire because they were lukewarm and He knew it. He knew their hearts and what He saw disgusted Him to the point of nausea. He was ready to throw up, in a figurative way, just like they were ready to throw up their lukewarm water that came from five or six miles away. The cold, lukewarm, and hot descriptors may be not just a comparison with water systems of Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis, but some have speculated, and I think that there might be something to this, but a comparison with the churches in those various cities. Just a thought.
Let us start with Colossae. Christ may have seen the members of Colossae as cold but not cold as you think of it in terms of having a cold shoulder or whatever. He might have seen them as refreshing and invigorating, just like they saw their water. And He may have seen the members at Hierapolis as hot, fervent, zealous, ready to go out there and do the work. But when He saw His people in Laodicea, they were just lukewarm like their water—flat, unappealing, apathetic, uninterested, unmotivated, self-assured to the point of not caring at all, specifically about Him.
Verse 17 brings out the vast contrast between their self-evaluation and Christ's judgment. They looked at themselves, their lives, their standing before Christ, and saw only good things. In fact, from the way that they express this, they are saying we are special. We are blessed, we are unique, we are exceptional, we are the "one percenters" of the church. I mean, just look at all the wealth. We must be blessed.
But Christ's evaluation of the same people is 180 degrees removed from their self-evaluation. To His eye, to His judgment, their spiritual state was abysmal, absolutely rock bottom. His descriptions of them are very colorful.
He calls them wretched, meaning destitute due to the ravages of war, like they have been in a bombing raid and all they were, all they had, had been reduced to rubble. They had nothing. That is how wretched they were.
Miserable means pitiful and pathetic in their lowly state. Poor. This is not just not having enough to get by. Poor here means the lowest of the low, beggarly. They had nothing. They were out there on the streets trying to get even just a little bit from some poor passersby because they had nothing. And because they were poor and beggarly like this, they were weak. They had no strength, unlike Smyrna. Remember Smyrna? They were poor physically, but He tells them "you are rich" because they had the spiritually proper attitude. They loved Christ and they were willing to sacrifice and be a good example and do what He asked of them. But not the Laodiceans.
Then He calls them blind. This does not necessarily mean physically blind, but it means uncomprehending. He is telling them, "You're not able to see the truth in your state." And then finally He says that they were naked. Yes, unclothed, that is what the word literally means. But figuratively it means shameful, without honor, disgraceful. They were a mess!
Christ uses some pretty strong language here to let them know that their self-evaluation was absolutely, 100 percent wrong.
They were destitute through war, pitiful and pathetic, beggarly and weak, uncomprehending and unable to see the truth, and shameful, having no honor. And they were a disgrace to the church. Pretty strong words, if you put it that way. They thought they were pretty good. "Hey, we are rich, wealthy, and do not need anything, we are entirely self-sufficient."
Why is there such a huge disparity in these two judgments? What caused it? Certainly the Laodiceans were self-deceived. But what made them self-deceived? What caused their self- deception? Their wealth and their easy life in Laodicea played its part. I am sure they must have seen, as I mentioned earlier, their material wealth, their nice houses, their beautiful clothing, and whatever they had, their businesses, as a sign of blessing from God. They probably drew a direct line between God and their wealth, saying He must have given it to us because we are such good people. When, in fact, they were just prospering alongside their fellow citizens in Laodicea.
Have you ever heard the term that a high tide raises all boats? Well, that was what was happening to them but they were drawing the wrong conclusion. They were saying God did it when in fact it was just the economy of the region. Everybody was rich in Laodicea.
So what lay behind their inadequate and uninspired works, the ones that Christ was ready to spew right out of His mouth? One commentator, a man named Jürgen Rohloff, put it this way. I think he caught the essence of their problem. "The Christians in Laodicea were living in the self-satisfied certainty that they had already received salvation as a sure possession." In a nutshell, they believe the Gnostic heresy known as the doctrine of eternal security. It was not called that then, it was just a Gnostic belief that because of the election of God, they were going to receive salvation and eternal life, no matter what they did.
You may know this as the doctrine of "once saved, always saved." That there was no way that they could lose their salvation. So if they could not lose their salvation, they saw no reason to work zealously for Christ. If you have already got it, why sacrifice for it? If it is already in your hand, why work for it? Why make any effort for any reason on Christ's behalf if, at the end of your life, no matter what you have done, He is going to give it to you anyway? So you might as well do whatever you want. Use that wealth, make more money, cheat the guy down the road. Who knows what they were thinking that they could do because they already possessed eternal life and they would be given the reward in the Kingdom?
That is the thing that has cursed Christendom for many hundreds of years. It is the predominant idea right now in Christendom, specifically Protestant Christendom. And we should not be surprised that such a thing would show up in the church of God in a least one place and probably many more. I mean this sort of problem is exactly the kind of problem that would arise in our situation. We live in the wealthiest nation in the world. We have no problems. We even call them First World problems because they are stupid things that we should not even worry about or stress over, where people in Third World countries are trying to live hand-to-mouth and do not have what we have. We think that because we have a nice suit or a nice car, a nice house or a nice position somewhere that God has been blessing us.
But that may not be the case at all. We may be just as self-deceived as the Laodiceans were, because God is looking at the heart. He does not care what clothes you wear or which neighborhood you live in or what car you drive. He cares what your character is, and if the character is not even remotely looking like His own, then this letter is for you.
Let us go to Colossians 2. I want you to see that Paul was worried way back in the fifties about this Gnosticism affecting the Colossian church. He says this right away in verse 1. We are just going to read the first ten verses.
Colossians 2:1-10 For I want you to know [Colossians] what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. [I just want you to notice here he is talking about gnosis, knowledge, understanding to these people in Colossae and Laodicea. This is a very clear indication that they were being troubled by Gnostics.]. Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words. For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ. As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him [Notice how he is moving away from knowledge into behavior and obedience in following the example of Jesus Christ.], so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world [which is a phrase meaning demons and demonic basic principles], and not according to Christ. [See, this was the Laodiceans' problem. They had left their love for Christ for another spirit as it were, and notice what he says next. They are supposed to be concentrating on Christ.] For in Him dwells all the fullness of the divine nature bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.
Did you notice the remarkable similarity to what Paul said and what Christ said in His letter to the Laodiceans? Paul ended up with Christ and who He was, His great power, and that He was the fullness of the divine nature. Christ started with that in the letter to the Laodiceans and got to the same point that they were being deceived by an attitude, an idea, that was false—that they could live their lives as they wished, and they would be given eternal life at the end, no matter what. This was the Gnostic heresy that was in that region, and it was affecting them terribly.
Now what it appears is that least the Laodiceans took this—what Paul said, Paul's instruction about legalism that comes on a little bit later in this very same chapter—a bit too far. They went into what is essentially Protestantism. Protestantism uses this section right here, verses 11-18, to say that we do not have to keep the law. Protestants use this section to say that the law has been done away, that Christ nailed it to the cross, and so that you do not have to do anything. You do not have to keep the law. You do not have to do the works. You do not have to keep the Sabbath. You do not have to keep the feasts.
So it is quite possible that the Laodiceans began to believe and to practice this very thing, the same thing that we see in modern Protestantism. A "take me as I am" religion that spurns works and actually even calls them unnecessary. And I have heard some Protestant preachers call them wrong. That if you do any works at all, you are not going to be in God's Kingdom, or you will not go to heaven as they would say, because they are practicing a "works" religion and not coming under grace.
I was going to go to I Corinthians 4:8-10. I wanted to show you there that Paul actually mocks this kind of thing in the Corinthian church because they were getting all puffed up about their own wisdom and such. But I will forego that to go on and finish the rest of this letter.
Revelation 3:18 [Christ writes to them] "I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich, and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see."
He hits all the major industries here of Laodicea to give them some local color. But He tells them to buy from Him this gold, white raiments, and eye salve. Have you ever bought anything from Christ? I am going to go back and read Isaiah 55 and read the first three verses, which this is a reference to.
Isaiah 55:1-3 [where it says] "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come by and eat. Yes, come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear [another listening metaphor], and come to Me. Hear [He says it right out], and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you—the sure mercies of David."
How do we buy from Christ? How do you buy anything without money? If you should go into a restaurant and eat and eat and find out you do not have money to pay for the bill, what is it that will have to happen? Well, you have to go in the back and wash dishes, do something. So work erases such deficiency. See, if you do not have the money, you have to work. So how do we buy from Christ? Well, it is two ways. We buy from Christ through total submission and obedience to Him. And the second thing, we work. Listening is in that first one—total submission and obedience to Him. And then we have got to put what we learn to practice. We have got to work for it, and we primarily work on ourselves to grow and to be a witness of God's way in the world.
Now what He tells them to buy from Him reflects their inactivity in Christian works. He tells them to buy refined gold. That represents purifying one's life by removing sin, and growing in faith and character, despite persecution. This is what the Smyrnans had. They were being persecuted right and left and they are rich, He said. Because they were living the right life, they were doing what He wanted them to do. He tells them to buy white garments. Revelation 19:7 says those are the righteous acts of the saints that cover the nakedness, the shame of sin, particularly idolatry and worldliness. And also we have seen in other of these sermons that they also represent victory or overcoming, and we overcome by living this way of life. We repent of it, and then we overcome the sin by replacing it with proper godly conduct.
And then, of course, He tells them to buy eye salve. That represents spiritual discernment, which can only come through deep study and prayer and meditation and closeness to Christ through the Holy Spirit. It is the only way you will be able to be have spiritual discernment. It will have to come from knowing God, knowing Christ, knowing His way, knowing His Word, and thinking it through and understanding all the relationships between what He has taught us and what is coming.
Revelation 3:19 "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent."
Now Christ tells them, and us, that His motivation for writing this letter is love. He is not out to get them. He is not the mean judge that is going to fulfill His wrath on them. He has to take this hard line of reprimand and discipline so that judgment and rejection, that is the vomiting them out of His mouth, does not have to happen. He would rather be a little hard at this point and save them, rather than have to kill them for all eternity through His wrath. He does not want them to come under His judgment.
So the first steps for them are zeal. They need to have fervor and intense feeling and drive to please Him. They also must repent. They have to first change their mind and their attitudes. And then once that happens, they can begin to affect some positive change in their lives, their behavior, and start doing the works.
Revelation 3:20 "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and dine with him and he with Me."
Let us go to Song of Solomon, chapter 5. I want to read this in conjunction with this verse. This is where this idea, this image comes from. The one in Revelation 3:20 comes from here.
Song of Songs 5:2-5 I sleep, but my heart is awake [This is the Shulamite.]; it is the voice of my beloved! He knocks, saying, "Open for me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one; for my head is covered with dew, my locks with the drops of the night." [And she replies,] I have taken off my robe; how could I put it on again? I have washed my feet; how can I defile them? My beloved put his hand by the latch of the door, and my heart yearned for him. I arose to open for my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, on the handles of the lock. I opened for my beloved, but my beloved had turned away and was gone. My heart leaped up when he spoke. I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer. The watchman who went about the city found me. They struck me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took my veil away from me. I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, that you tell him that I am lovesick!
Here is an image of a Laodicean, if you will, not reacting in time and having to face the beating from the watchman because they were distracted, they made excuses, and suffered the consequences.
So what Christ is asking in Revelation 3:20 is for a renewed, intimate relationship with them, a relationship that had been lacking in Laodicea. Sure, they had accepted Him as their Lord and Savior at conversion, but since then they had hardly given Him the time of day. In fact, the illustration shows that they had shut and locked the door on Him. The Laodiceans had so effectively shut Him out that He cannot enter their lives unless they stop their excuses, put down their distractions, get off the couch, walk to the door, and open it up from the inside.
The image in Revelation 3:20 is of a door that has no handle on the outside. That is why He has to knock and get their attention and have them come to the door. He has put forth all the initiative for their response, and they have not, up to this point, responded.
Christ's mention of dining or eating with them, this is actually the evening meal, the one that you would linger over, the one you would have somebody over and talk into the night over a glass of wine, or what have you. Christ eating with them brings up a final image that we have to plug in here, and that is of the peace, thank, or fellowship offering. The commentators tend to miss this because they discount the Old Testament and its rituals in the New Testament settings.
The peace offering shows fellowship among the offerer, the high priest, or the priest, and God as a result of sacrifice. The offering, the meal that they actually eat, is a sacrifice, and they are all brought together by this sacrifice, and this sacrifice is acceptable to God. And so they all join together, and they have a meal which shows intimate fellowship among the three of them.
The illustration here in Revelation 3:20 suggests that the Laodiceans needed to begin sacrificing their lives, Romans 12:1-2, and to become living sacrifices in a way that God would see as an acceptable sacrifice. And if they did, Christ would be more than happy to restore fellowship with them, that He would then make sure that there was fellowship between the Laodiceans, Christ Himself, and God the Father. They would all have this meal together, and they would have a wonderful time and become closer and closer to each other. But they are not doing their part in denying themselves and bearing their cross. But if they did, the relationship with God could easily be restored. It took them to change their minds about things and to start putting in the effort. And if they did, the next verse then comes into play.
Revelation 3:21 "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne."
So if they overcame similar temptations to compromise their faithful witness that He overcame as the model faithful witness, even they, as low as they had sunk, as miserable and wretched as they were, could share His throne in God's Kingdom. It would be a wrenching, painful process, but it could happen. They had not reached the point where they were lost. They could still turn it around and have everything that they had been promised. But they are going to have to sacrifice, they are going to have to work, they are going to have to love God. There is hope for glory and position even for those who have fallen as far as the Laodiceans had.
It is my desire that hope is what you have taken from this series of sermons. Hope in the fact that Christ loves us, hope in the fact that He gets down in the dirt and works with us every day, and hope in the fact that He will do His utmost to prepare us for eternal life in His Kingdom.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear!