The Message to Laodicea: Be Zealous and Repent

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Christ gives an antidote to the deadly Laodicean attitude.

Jesus' seventh and last message to the congregations of Revelation 2 and 3 was in stark contrast to His previous one to Philadelphia. Whereas Philadelphia is unique in that it did not receive any condemnation, Laodicea is unique in that it does not receive any commendation.

There were apparently several cities named Laodicea in Syria and Asia Minor. The one Jesus was referring to lay in the fertile Lycus Valley in Phrygia on the river Lycus. It was about 45 miles southeast of Philadelphia, 100 miles east of Ephesus and 10 miles west of Colossae. "The great Roman road stretching to the inland of Asia from the coast at Ephesus ran straight through its center, making Laodicea an important center of trade and communication" ( Expositor's Bible Commentary ).

"After having been successively called Diosopolis and Rhoas, it was named Laodicea in honor of Laodice, the wife of Antiochus II (261-246 B.C.), who rebuilt it. It was destroyed by an earthquake (A.D. 66 or earlier) and rebuilt by Marcus Aurelius...The town was located on a flat-topped hill. A wall (about a kilometer long on each of its four sides) surrounded the crown of the hill. Gates pierced this wall on the N, E, and NW. At the SW edge of the plateau stood a stadium, built and dedicated to Vespasian in A.D. 79" ( New Unger's Bible Dictionary,  1988, article "Laodicea").

"Though Laodicea stood on the great highway at the junction of several important routes, it was a place of little consequence until the Roman province of Asia was formed in 190 BC. It then suddenly became a great and wealthy center of industry, famous specially for the fine black wool of its sheep and for the Phrygian powder for the eyes, which was manufactured there (compare Rev:3:18). In the vicinity was the temple of Men Karou and a renowned school of medicine..." ( International Standard Bible Encylopaedia,  Electronic Database, 1996 by Biblesoft, article "Laodicea"). Although the city also produced ear ointments, it was widely renowned for its Phrygian powder, a medicine famous for curing eye defects.

So situated and blessed with economic prosperity, this city "became extremely wealthy during the Roman period. For example, in 62 B.C. Flaccus seized the annual contribution of the Jews of Laodicea for Jerusalem amounting to 20 pounds of gold. Moreover, when the city was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 60 (along with Colossae and Hierapolis), it alone refused aid from Rome for rebuilding" ( Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary,  1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers, article "Laodicea"). History also records Cicero cashing large bank drafts here without problem.

For all of its prosperity, Laodicea had one significant physical flaw—its water supply. "A six-mile-long aqueduct brought Laodicea its supply of water from the south. The water came either from hot springs and was cooled to lukewarm or came from a cooler source and warmed up in the aqueduct on the way" ( Expositor's Bible Commentary ).

"The ruins, now called Eski Hissar, or old castle, lie near the modern Gonjelli on the railroad, and they have long served as a quarry to the builders of the neighboring town of Denizli. Among them nothing from before the Roman period has appeared. One of the two Roman theaters is remarkably well preserved, and there may still be seen the stadium, a colonnade, the aqueduct which brought the water across the valley to the city by an inverted siphon of stone pipes, a large necropolis, and the ruins of three early Christian churches" ( International Standard Bible Encylopaedia,  Electronic Database, 1996 by Biblesoft, article "Laodicea").

The Author

Jesus began this message by describing Himself as "the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God" (Revelation:3:14). There are all titles or names of Jesus that represent His trustworthy nature and involvement in creation.

The word "Beginning," from the Greek,  arche,  has been misunderstood by some to mean that Jesus was a created Being. Several biblical resources note that this interpretation is incorrect.

Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words  explains that  arche  can be understood as "the origin, the active cause, whether a person or thing, e. g., Col:1:18" (1985, article "Begin, Beginning, Beginner"). The  Expositor's Bible Commentary  adds: "The 'ruler' ( arche , 'source,' 'origin') further amplifies the Amen statement. Paul used arche in Colossians:1:18 to describe Christ as the source or origin of all creation (not the first created; cf. Prov:8:22; John:1:3), no doubt to correct a heresy.

"Since Colosse was a neighboring city of Laodicea, it is not improbable that the same heresy was also affecting the sister church at Laodicea. But this is not explicit. What is plain is this: When Christ addresses a church that is failing in loyalty and obedience, he is to them the 'Amen' of God in faithfulness and in true witness, the only one who has absolute power over the world because he is the source and origin of all creation (1:17; 2:8; 22:13)."

A "Lukewarm" Condition

Jesus began His message saying, "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth" (verses 15-16). As we noted previously, works are important to Jesus. Showing that He was intimately aware of all their actions and circumstances, Jesus likened their indifferent spiritual condition to their city's poor water supply.

Seven miles north of Laodicea, lay the city of Hierapolis with its famous hot springs. Jesus may have had this in mind by His use of the word "hot." His use of "cold" may have referred to useful cool water at Colosse, only 10 miles east of the city. Though historians are not sure whether Laodicea's water source was cold or hot, by the time it arrived in Laodicea, through the six-mile aqueduct to the south, it was lukewarm and, apparently, distasteful.

After comparing the congregation's works to the temperature of the city's water, Jesus continued the analogy to reveal His reaction to their spiritual condition. Just as drinking distasteful or contaminated water can cause people to vomit, Jesus said He would vomit them out of His mouth. What a detestable picture!

Continuing, Jesus said He would vomit them out of His 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" (verse 17). Sadly, the Laodiceans did not  know  their true condition. They were blinded by their economic prosperity and wealth. They undoubtedly assumed these blessings from God represented His approval. Yet physical wealth and spiritual wealth are not necessarily the same (see Matthew:6:19-20 and Hebrews:11:26). Unfortunately, the Laodiceans were unaware of their real spiritual state.

Self-Deception

The problem in Laodicea was not unusual. The Bible has numerous warnings regarding humanity's deceitful nature. Jeremiah:17:9 says the human heart is "is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." Proverbs:14:12 and 16:25 say, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." And sadly, self-deception continues today, especially in religious matters.

Recent reports indicate that with increasing regularity, many people today desire spirituality in their lives but are unwilling to follow specific instructions on how to achieve it. Instead of accepting a single organization's teachings, many now pick and choose from numerous ideas in assembling their own eclectic collections of religious ideas. This phenomenon has been called "Cafeteria Christianity" and "The Religion of the Sovereign Self."

Like the Laodiceans of the first century, people who engineer their own religions are generally pleased with their choices and believe God approves of their ways — ways that are in direct contradiction with others holding similarly self-designed religious ideas. Even though Scripture tells us God is not the "author of confusion" (1 Corinthians:14:33), some mistakenly believe there are many paths to God and that all are acceptable to Him. Paul shows the fallacy of this view saying there is only "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians:4:5).

Because of our self-deceptive tendencies, God says, "I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings" (Jeremiah:17:10). In the message to Thyatira, Jesus said, "all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works" (Revelation:2:23).

In order to truly follow God, humans need new hearts (Ezekiel:11:19; 18:31; 36:26)—ones submissive to Him and those He establishes as teachers in His Church (Ephesians:4:11-12; Hebrews:13:17). In sharp contrast to the human proclivity to pick and choose one's own religious ideas, Paul described first century believers as people who had yielded hearts to God, His ministers and the Church. In writing to the Thessalonians, Paul called them "followers of us and of the Lord" (1 Thessalonians:1:6) and "imitators of the churches of God" (1 Thessalonians:2:14).

The Antidote

Even though the Laodiceans had become lukewarm and spiritually blinded, Jesus did not reject them or disassociate Himself from them. He warned them to wake up and change. And He gave them advice on how to do this. "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," said Jesus (verse 18). In this statement, Jesus used three well-known local products to illustrate spiritual principles.

First, was "gold refined in the fire." While Laodicea's wealth meant it had a great deal of gold within the city, the concepts Jesus had in mind were related to spiritual character. Almost 500 years earlier, the prophet Malachi wrote of Christ's second coming, "But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire and like launderers' soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; he will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness" (Malachi:3:2-3).

Similarly, Peter wrote, "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter:1:6-7). Jesus advised the Laodiceans to buy this kind of gold.

Secondly, while local Laodicean merchants produced fine garments from the black wool of the area, Jesus advised buying "white garments." In doing so, He wasn't simply referring to a different colored garment—but different behavior. In Revelation:19:8, at the marriage of the Lamb, Jesus said His wife, the Church, "was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints." In the context of the great battle that will take place at Armageddon at Christ's return, He also said, "Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame" (Revelation:16:15). Jesus told the Laodiceans they needed to be concerned about their spiritual clothing.

Thirdly, Jesus spoke of their need for eye salve so they could see. While the Laodicean's famous Phrygian powder was widely used for eye problems, Jesus was referring to spiritual insight, wisdom and understanding. Upon the successful return of 70 of His disciples who had been sent to various cities to preach the gospel of the Kingdom, "Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, 'I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes'" (Luke:10:21). Jesus told the Laodiceans they needed the spiritual vision to see their real condition and change.

Encouragement

Lest some think He was uncaring in His correction, Jesus concluded His warning with an explanation of why He had been so critical: "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent" (verse 19). Because He has no desire to see anyone suffer (2 Peter:3:9), Jesus' strong words of correction were delivered to the first century Laodiceans and us today. It is His hope that those who are in need of this advice will be zealous (eager) to repent.

Those who respond to Jesus' words are promised a great reward: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to 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" (verses 20-21). What a wonderful blessing and opportunity!

Jesus concludes this message saying, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (verse 22). This message and the ones to the other cities were not intended only for the instruction and correction of first century Christians, but for the entire body of Christ in all ages and parts of the world.

Those who are part of this body will undoubtedly resemble these first century congregations in both their actions extolled by Christ and in their sins and weaknesses. God, as a loving parent, will deal justly and fairly with all. The rewards and punishments will remain the same regardless of the age. May God grant us today the spiritual wisdom and understanding to heed our Savior's advice in His messages to His Church.  UN

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