The Church at Laodicea
Roy Hill, Bristol, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
REVELATION 3. 14-22
Laodicea was about 45 miles south of Philadelphia and around 25 miles north of Colossae. When the messenger bearing the various letters arrived there he would have been due east of Ephesus where his remarkable journey had started. It lay in the fertile Lycus valley and was very near to another ancient city called Hieropolis. The valley looked up to the surrounding mountains permanently covered with calcium deposits from the hot springs making them seem as though covered in snow. From these deposits and from grounddown local stone were skilfully produced an eye salve and an ear ointment recommended worldwide by physicians. On the valley floor, in beautiful tranquillity, grazed jet black sheep that supplied a wonderful glossy fleece from which densely black garments were woven. The city itself was rich in architecture and was renowned for its research facilities and commercial acumen. However, the city had no water supply within its imme-diate environs and depended on water being piped from the hot springs of Hieropolis some six miles away, or the delivery of cold water from the springs of Colossae. By the time the water reached Laodicea from either source it was virtually undrinkable, yet, of course, was a vital necessity for daily life.
The name ‘Laodicea’ suggests a city where the people came first. This was not only in the thoughts and plans of the rulers but also in the citizens’ own eyes; it was ‘the will of the people’ that counted! Rather like the people in Haggai’s day they put personal prosperity before religion and before God. It was really a place where the will of the people was considered superior to the word of God. In His introduction the Lord describes Himself as ‘the Amen’, ‘the faithful and true witness’, and ‘the beginning of the creation of God’, v. 14. These intriguing titles suggest: His ability to bring to completion His divine purposes; His humanity, yet faithfulness, while here on earth; and His deity as the Creator of all things. An apposite reminder to this laid back, socially conscious church, as to who their Lord really was.
There is none! Neither did there appear to be any wrong doctrines nor any opposition or persecution perhaps suggesting that the church had become part of the community and being so flexible did not suffer the normal consequences of faithfulness and separation.
The Lord is obviously well aware of the works being done in this church yet omits any individual mention of them. He is more interested in motivation than in detail and so describes their attitude rather than accomplishments. He says they are ‘neither cold nor hot’. Both hot water and cold water are useful and efficient for different purposes but lukewarm water is useless and intolerable. To drink it is nauseating. Today, in the Pump Room in the City of Bath, England, visitors can taste the supposedly health-giving water on offer from the springs there at 50 pence per cup. It tastes dreadful and it is lukewarm. Only by steeling oneself can even a half cup be drunk. It is useful for nothing: just like the Laodicean church as described by the Lord.
Of course they themselves did not see it that way. In their own carnal estimation they were spiritually mature, ‘Because thou sayest I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing’, v. 17. Similar words are used by Ephraim in Hosea chapter 12 and verse 8 where he says, ’I am become rich, I have found me out substance; in all my labours they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin’. The Lord said, ‘Ephraim feedeth on wind’! Hos. 12. 1. Usually, the last to recognize carnality, whether individually or corporately, are those intimately involved in it. The divine assessment however was strikingly different. Said the Lord, ‘Thou knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind and naked’, v. 17. What an indictment to be in such a precarious position and yet not to know it! Such people, then and now, are in desperate need of counselling.
Spiritual counselling comes not from men but from the Lord Himself. Neither does it come without cost and determined effort. They are to ‘buy’ from Him, v. 18, which suggests not so much the handing over of money, of which they had plenty, but ‘doing business’ with the Lord. While they imagined they were sophisticated in their attitude and complete in their character the Lord reminds them there are three essentials they do not have: gold, tried in the fire; white raiment; and eye salve, v.18.
Though bankrupt spiritually and aware that divine gifts cannot be purchased with money, as Simon the Samaritan discovered, Acts 8. 20, they were ‘to buy into’ these items listed by the Lord Jesus. Gold would speak of an appreciation of the Lord and that He is the most precious possession any believer can have. It would also remind us of the faith which was absent in the daily lives of the believers in Laodicea. White raiment, in stark contrast to the local and fashionable black garments, would suggest purity and separation, clothed in the righteousness of God and no longer going about in their own righteousness.
Again, such raiment may also be indicative of the priestly worship of which the Lord was being robbed. Treatment with spiritual eye salve would enable them, blinded by worldliness, to enjoy the benefits of spiritual discernment and to more fully appreciate things here on earth in the same way as they are seen in heaven. The Lord reminds them that He does love them and His rebuke and chastening are proofs of that. He exhorts them to be zealous; to accept His rebuke in repentance and to be enthusiastic about moving onto a higher spiritual plane.
In verse 20 we have the Lord’s appeal often used in the preaching of the gospel, ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come into him, and will sup with him, and he with me’. Yet, it is really an appeal to individual believers at Laodicea. In all its activities somehow Christ was shut out. He was no longer welcome and perhaps His absence had gone unnoticed. Indeed they would have angrily denied any suggestion they had lost His presence. Sometimes His going is not discovered until He is heard knocking outside the door. Now, He desires to come back in to them. While the statement is addressed to the whole assembly it needs only one individual to open the door. When that happens He will come in and times of blessed fellowship, worship and outreach will doubtless follow.
Even in these circumstances where Christ is shut out from a gathering some individual believers may flourish; when His presence is a reality all do so. The overcomer in Laodicean conditions is promised the opportunity to sit with Christ in His throne even as He sits with God in His throne. He says, ‘even as I overcame’. As ever, He is the supreme example of faithfulness in challenging surroundings. As a reward, during the millennial reign believers will rule with Him. This is of course the portion of all believers indicating to us that all believers are, to a greater or lesser extent overcomers and enjoy the blessings offered to the overcomers in these seven churches.
This article concludes our series on the Letters to the Seven Churches.
As we review this passage there are many lessons to learn. In fact I would suggest that the characteristics of the church at Laodicea are reflected by many assemblies today. There is a turning away from God and a recognizable departure from many New Testament church principles won at great cost and once held dear. Such gatherings see little blessing and appear quite unaware of their shortcomings, yet in each assembly there are those with discernment who could open the door to recovery and revival by the simple expedient of allowing the Lord back in, and by encouraging others to once again recognize His lordship as expressed in His word. We are to be faithful and many assemblies would lay claim to be so. But if we truly are faithful the Lord will be with us and success in the gospel and spiritual prosperity among the saints will follow if He is working with us. Let us therefore strive that Laodicean conditions will be overcome in our day and generation and let the overcomers look forward in blessed anticipation of the rewards that are promised.
It is imperative that all assemblies hear and take heed to this word of the Lord to Laodicea. Any who take the view that it does not apply to them are deceived and cast entirely in the mould of a blind, wretched and embarrassing church.