Friday, August 14, 2009

Revelation 3:14-22 Laodicea

Laodicea is the last church which is to be addressed. It is a lukewarm church. Laodicea was about forty-five miles southeast of Philadelphia and about one hundred miles east of Ephesus. It was a very wealthy city. Being on trade route, it was one of the most flourishing commercial centers in Asia minor. One of the major products for trade was black wool for garments. It was also the headquarters for a famous medical school that specialized in eye care and a banking center for Asia minor.

Verse 3:14 “And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God.”

As in the letter to Philadelphia, the description of Christ covers more of His attributes than chapter one mentioned, although in 1:5, it does refer to Him as the faithful witness. He is the Amen. This word is the equivalent of saying, “So be it.” It is the final word, the last word in the sense of there is nothing more to discuss. What has been said, will be. What Laodicea is about to hear is some really bad news, and there is no argument about it. Christ is also the faithful and true witness, two attributes that could not be said of the Laodicean church. It was in contrast to their lack of these things that He presents Himself in this way. He is the beginning of creation. John 1:3 “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” He takes them right back to the book of Genesis to make them realize that the truth starts there. Today most people do not believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, especially the first book - Genesis. Without accepting this as the literal history that it is - the whole concept of sin, death coming into the world, and the need for a redeemer - it renders Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection a useless act. This church has lost the whole understanding of that need in their indifference. One of the greatest impediments for Christians today is evolution. Many think that they have to believe in it as "science" says it is so. What they do not understand is that evolution is first and foremost merely man's theoretical interpretation of evidence. Evidence that is just as easily, nay more easily interpreted by the Word of God. 1 Timothy 6:20-21 says "O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: which some professing have erred concerning the faith." Paul tells us that even back then, so-called science (the Greeks loved it) was false and belief in it was destroying the faith of some. The basis of their science was not the foundation of the Word of God, but man's suppositions and theories, which are not reliable. Evolution bases its beginnings on spontaneous generation. Yet science has proven that in the natural, spontaneous generation is impossible. Only God can spontaneously create something. Therefore their whole theory's foundation is a lie. Yet some Christians think that it is fact and that they must believe it, which then destroys their faith in the Word of God and leads them astray. Laodicea may have had some problems with this same sort of thing.

Verse 3:15 “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.”

This is a passage that has some people in a quandary. Among some it is said that as Sardis was a cold, dead church, that Christ would prefer a cold, dead church to one that is only lukewarm. I personally do not think that is what is meant. In previous letters, Christ says things to which the local congregation can relate. In this case, water is something that is of significance to this congregation. Several miles south of Laodicea was a hot springs. The city ran aqueducts from this spring to the city. By the time it reached the city it was no longer hot, but lukewarm. After passing through the city, the further away the water got, the colder it would get. Up at the hot springs the water had some medicinal value. Down the road it was a cool refreshing drink that quenched thirst. Both hot and cold water have real value. Lukewarm water is not good for anything, and if one attempts to drink it, it is so unpalatable, that one spits it out of his mouth. This is exactly the way their works are described, good for nothing. Unlike the other churches, they do not even have any works (even with wrong motives), that are good for anything. I have noticed that this seems to be the way with the truly wealthy (which this church was). They are so out of touch with the true needs of people, that what they do give or do amounts to useless acts of charity. And this group certainly was not spreading the gospel.

Verse 3:16 “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”

Just as tepid water is unpalatable, this church is the same to Christ. They are good for nothing and He can only spit them out with distaste. This church is one that does not want to “offend” so they have neutralized and watered down the gospel to the point of uselessness. It is not that they outright deny Christ or the Bible being God’s word. If that were the case, they would not be getting this letter, as they would never have been a true church to begin with. They simple have accommodated everyone by not preaching anything that would cause offense. There are many churches like that today. Just as Thomas Jefferson cut the passages he did not like out of his Bible, so this church has apparently eliminated anything that might cause offense. I knew a church that removed the pew Bibles (put there for visitors), from the pews as they might cause offense. They also stopped serving the Lord’s Supper for the same reason. They did not want anyone to feel “uncomfortable”. This type of church generally does get big and wealthy as people want to go to church and not feel convicted, and this provides that option, so many people come there. This church seems to be the same. They are big, rich, and impressive in the community as a social club. For all that it matters, they might as well be a social club. Most of these types of churches today basically function as such.

Verse 3:17 “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.”

Ouch! What a criticism. They are arrogantly proud of their wealth and point to it as a blessing of God’s favor, not realizing that He wants to spew them out. Many mega-churches do the same today. They have thousands of people in attendance, multiple “ministries”, television broadcasts, their pastors live luxurious lives, and all the time they point to it all and say that if God was not blessing and happy with them, it would not be so. I tend to believe the opposite. The church that is truly walking with God and is a witness in the world is probably going to be a persecuted church, a small church, and no doubt a poor church. Satan hates churches that truly preach and teach God’s word and walk in a way that witnesses. He will try to take them down. On the other hand, a church that is useless and will never bring anybody to the Lord is one that Satan will prosper just for the sake of leading as many as possible astray. It is not that God will not bless in material ways (a church may be prosperous and still a good church), but one must look to see from whom the blessing comes by measuring their lives and works against the clear teachings of scripture.

Contrast what Christ says to this church versus what He said to Smyrna. They were poor, yet He called them rich. They were poor in a financial sense, but spiritually they were very wealthy. This church is very wealthy in a materialistic way, but spiritually they are bankrupt. Not only poor, but wretched, miserable, blind, and naked. The last two are particularly poignant given that Laodicea was known for its wool and garment trade, and the medical center that specialized in eye treatments.

Verse 3:18 “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye salve, that thou mayest see.”

Christ is counseling them. He is not demanding, He is not begging. He is advising them. It is their choice. A person can only give advice, he cannot make a person accept it and act upon it. He counsels them to buy gold tried in the fire. He wants them to buy from Him. They are used to buying everything that they want, and yet they cannot buy that which is the most important thing - that which we cannot purchase for ourselves, as Christ purchased it for us and gave it to us for free. Is. 55:1-3 “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? And your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you.”

He wants them to buy gold tried in the fire. Everything we ever do for Christ is going to be put through the refiner’s fire to purge it. Only that which remains will have been good. 1 Cor. 3:11-15 “For other foundation can no man lay that that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” They say you can’t take it with you. I say that you can send it on ahead. What we do for Christ are the jewels that are put through the fire. That which is good will remain and we will have riches to throw at Christ’s feet. He is advising them to get that kind of gold so that they might be rich in spirit.

He now advises them to get white raiment to cover their nakedness. Is. 64:6a “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” When it comes to righteousness, they are not just wearing filthy rags, they are naked. Laodicea was known for the black wool they produced and the garments they made from it. It was black. As a filthy rag. He was advising them to get white raiment. The color of the garments worn by the saints in heaven. Rev. 19:8. “And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.”

Lastly he counsels them to anoint their eyes with eye salve so that they might see. For a group of people living in a city renowned for its medical eye treatment center, this was a comparison they could not miss. 2 Pet. 1:4-9 “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.” The church at Laodicea lacked all of these things. They were blind, could not see afar off to their eternal state, being caught up in the present, and had forgotten that they had been purged from their sins. They needed to have their eyes opened. Ps. 119:18 “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” They couldn’t see the goodness of God in living a life in Him rather than the world.

Verse 3:19 “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”

I have heard it said about Christians that are in this state that they are not really Christians, that they never really accepted the Lord, as a “real” Christian could never act in this way. But that is not true. These are Christians, as Christ is chastising them. He loves them; they are His children. Heb. 12:6 “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” The Lord does not chasten the wicked. He simply punishes them, but He does chasten His children that He loves. The Laodiceans, as far from God as they are, are still His children. They are still true Christians. True Christians can and indeed do walk away from the Lord. If they don’t repent, there is only “a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation” (Heb. 10:27)

Verse 3:20 “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”

This verse is the lyrics for an old chorus that I learned as a child. When I learned it, and every time I have since heard people use it, it is always used in the context of Jesus knocking at the door of the heart of an unbeliever. That is not the way this verse is meant. This is Christ knocking at the door of the church, asking to be let back in. The church had let Christ leave. They had closed the door behind Him. He was standing out there, knocking and waiting to be invited back in. Christ does not force Himself on anyone, even the Christian. That is why a person who is a Christian can walk away from the Lord and lose their salvation. We are not compelled to Christ against our will, no matter what some may say. Here is the perfect evidence that this is true.

This church had “Ichabod” written over their door. 1 Sam. 4:21 “And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken….” When a church departs from the Lord, it is said that Ichabod is written over the door of that church. I have been in a church that the Lord has left. It is the one I described above that removed the Bibles and the Lord’s Supper. When the Lord left, so did my family. I was surprised to be speaking to a member of the church shortly after, and out of the blue he said to me, “The Lord has left this church.” That was confirmation for me, as I knew this man was truly a man of God. It took a little while longer for his family to leave, but they did also.

The promise to this church is that if they merely let Him back in, He will sup with them. Unlike the meals that we have most often today, where it is fast food, fast eating, and often not as a family, this is speaking of a different type of meal. Back in Jesus day, when people got together for the big meal of the day, they would recline, and take their time. They spent time in fellowship and conversation, much like we would do at a holiday family meal. I know my family’s holiday meals can go on for hours as we catch up with news, share reminisces, anecdotes, and just converse. This is the type of meal about which Christ is speaking. In fact, it may be that the specific meal about which He is speaking is the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Verse 3:21 “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”

Even the Laodiceans, if they repent and overcome, will partake of the promises to the saints in the kingdom. Just as Christ was seated at the right hand of God, Heb. 12:2 “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”, the saints are promised the right to sit with Christ on the throne. This is speaking of having rule and judgment over the nations. Rev. 20:4.….“and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” 1 Cor. 6:2 “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world….”

Verse 3:22 “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”

For the seventh time this command is given. Seven letters, all somewhat different, yet this command is the same each time. It is vitally important that they listen and repent, so God repeats this each time. Again, it is the last thing said, as the church as a whole is lost. Only the remnant can be saved, if they repent.

We have seen the number seven used a number of different ways in these first three chapters. So far we have seen 1) seven Spirits, 2) seven churches, 3) seven golden candlesticks, 4) seven stars, and 5) the repetition of the final command seven times. There are more sevens to come in the chapters ahead.

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