The last of the seven Churches mentioned in Revelation 2-3 is the Church of Laodicea. There are several passages that are mentioned to this Church by Jesus in Revelation 3:14-22 that are among the most quoted scriptures in the body of Christ. The phrase I wish you were either hot (on fire) or cold (frozen), but since you’re lukewarm (halfhearted) I will vomit you out of My mouth comes from this Church (3:15-15). The parentheses were added by me about what most assume Jesus was saying through those two verses, but through study I have come to a different conclusion, which I will cover later in this chapter. And lastly another great popular preaching phrase comes from verse 20 when Jesus says …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. Again, the phrase I just stated I will cover at length later on in this chapter as we look at Jesus’ address to this Church line by line.
It’s amazing to me how some of these passages become some of the most quoted verses in Christendom. It’s important when reading the Word of God that we work to take what was being said in its proper context. And when it comes to the Revelation, it’s not always easy to understand the local context of what was taking place when these verses were written. The Bible gives us some information, history gives us a little more and even ancient markings and archeology help as well. One of the most powerful and insightful things for me during this current study, is seeing what is most likely a large amount of direct references to the local settings of these seven Churches. At first glance and a causal reading of Revelation 2-3 it would be overly easy to spiritualize much of Jesus’ conversation, but when looking a little deeper we can see that there is most likely a lot of local references to these specific cities.
Some of the things Jesus says to the Church of Laodicea seem to have an entirely local meaning, which apart from understanding what was taking place during this time period, we can only guess and speculate what’s being said. A book that greatly helped me understand these Churches in their local setting is called The Letters Of The Seven Churches To Asia In Their Local Setting by Mr. Colin J. Hemer. Through this book, the author doesn’t do away with the spiritual application of Revelation 2-3 but rather helps to put the spiritual conversation from Jesus in its practical or local setting. Many other commentators have alluded to the local setting of these Churches, but none to the extent that Mr. Colin J. Hemer has. This Church, the Church of Laodicea has much local application that we shall now look at directly.
The History of Laodicea
The city of Laodicea was like many other cities Jesus addressed throughout Revelation 2-3, wealthy, affluent, enjoying deep relationships within the city through compromising the truth of the Gospel and important in the eyes of men. Laodicea’s wealth was generated from its location being situated on the convergence of three very important trade roads. It was the convergence of these trade roads that was a prominent factor to their wealth, as it was then known for banking and large industry.
Within the city they profited greatly from a beautiful, raven-black wool that was used for expensive carpets and clothing. Within this city they also had a school of medicine that was specifically known for treating ear and eye issues from a local powder called Phrygian powder that was used to make a special ointment.
Speaking about this city’s wealth Mark Driscoll states Recent archeology digs in the city have found ancient housing foundations that are upwards of 3,000 square ft. with centralized water systems and indoor plumbing. When stacked up against today’s large housing, these homes don’t compare, but when looking at the time period in which they existed, including centralized water and indoor plumbing, this is opulence that we couldn’t even imagine. We know not only from history, but from this Jesus’ words to this Church that they were experiencing great wealth.
Another reason why centralized water and indoor plumbing was such a luxury for this city, is because unlike most cities, it was built about six miles away from the nearest water source. This meant that a giant aqueduct had to be constructed to transport the water from the source into the city. The water was taken from a place where temperatures reached upwards of 95-degrees Fahrenheit and some places even as hot as boiling. But because of the length of this aqueduct, when the water was received in the city, it was no longer hot, but rather lukewarm or tepid. This aqueduct, because of its large amount of stone (6 miles or 31,680 feet) also collected a large amount of calcium deposits which was said to induce vomiting among those that consumed it. Jesus’ reference to the lukewarm nature of this ministry, I believe had to do more with ineffectiveness then half-heartedness, but I will cover that later.
Again, speaking to the wealth of this city and the people of this city, including Christians, history tells us that around 60 A.D. the city was toppled by a large, very destructive earthquake. But while this city lay in ruins, Rome offered to help finically in the rebuilding of Laodicea, but upon hearing the news, the city rejected the money and rebuilt the entire city with their own wealth.
The Church of Laodicea, mentioned in Revelation 3:14-22 isn’t spoken of as struggling from Roman oppression or from Jewish persecution. Instead, they are spoken of by Jesus as having become much like their city, compromising the truth of the Word of God for comfort within their community. The Church of Ephesus was too conservative, defending doctrine to the neglect of the lost. While Laodicea was too liberal, embracing sin and immorality within the city to the detriment of solid Bible Doctrine. Jesus wants us to be with Him, where He is, not too far ahead of Him (liberalism) and not too far behind Him (conservatism).
Jesus’ Address to the Church of Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22)
For the seventh and final time, Jesus’ Addresses the Church of Laodicea in the same way He has Addressed all previous six Churches by speaking to the human leadership of the ministry. He says in 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… But from Jesus’ Address to this Church, He then goes to reveal various Attributes of Himself that are specific to this ministry and the things they were facing.
Among the Seven Churches, the two Churches that received the strongest words of rebuke from Jesus would have to be Ephesus (2:1-7) and Laodicea. But what I love about Jesus is He usually qualifies Himself to us as One who is able to say what He’s about to say. This is exactly what He does to the Church of Laodicea. In the revelation of His Attributes to this ministry, He reveals three primary facets of His personality to them. Firstly He says, …I am the Amen.. Through this statement Jesus is declaring Himself to be the so be it of God. He is saying I am the Truthful One, the One who speaks truth, the and all of God or the Great I AM. Secondly, He says to them …I am the Faithful and True witness.. What’s revealed through this Attribute is the assurance that they can trust His words as truth to them in their broken, complacent and lethargic condition. Jesus is the Faithful Witness who always tells the truth to us in our situations.
Paul said in 2nd Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. For the reasons Paul mentions, we also love the Lamb. We can trust His words now in this age, because when He was in the eternal age, having everything and needing nothing, He left it all, took on flesh and became incarnated for the sake of humans. We love Him, and trust Him because when He had all things, He left them. This is part of that revealed Attribute to this struggling ministry.
And thirdly, Jesus says …I am the Beginning of the creation of God… In this phrase Jesus is telling the ministry that they shouldn’t just trust His words because He’s the Amen of God and the Faithful and True Witness, but because He is God. He was there at the beginning of creation, which qualifies Him as God, the transcendent One. Jesus is establishing His credibility with the ministry prior to entering into His confrontation with them. He is mainly stating through these 3 revealed Attributes that they should trust all the things that He is saying to them, and even more than trust they should hear them and obey them, because He is God. To the Church of Smyrna He revealed His humanity as the Suffering Servant, but to this Church He is revealing His Divinity as God, the One who was at the beginning of the creation. Jesus is making it crystal clear that He is well qualified to speak to them. Oh, if we only knew Who was talking with us.
The Church of Laodicea, along with the Church of Sardis (3:1-6) are the only two Churches out of the seven that actually receive nothing positive from Jesus in terms of His Approval of some of the things they are doing. Both the Church of Sardis and the Church of Laodicea are in a terrible place before the Holy One of Israel. And because Jesus has no Approval for them, He moves right into His Accusation of them. Jesus says to them in Revelation 3:15-16 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.
This Church is in the process of being strongly rebuked by Jesus for their gross compliancy and their inability to deliver the Gospel of the Kingdom to their city. As I have already stated these two verses are among the most quoted scriptures in Christianity. In my personal research I have come across several different thoughts about what Jesus is saying, but among the many theories there is a common theme that runs through them, which I much more readily agree with. The one thing that is concrete is that there is no mention of this phrase anywhere else in the Bible, which leads us to think that Jesus’ words to them from verses 15-16 have an entirely local context.
I have heard this passage quoted many times in various sermons, and generally it’s coming from a mean-spirited preacher, who’s trying to use it to motivate the unmotivated so they Get with the program before Jesus throws them up. This approach has always turned me off and made me wonder a little bit about what was really going on. The idea that I have come to is a mixture of the tender hearted Bridegroom Who is talking with them along with their lengthy 6 mile aqueduct. From the Bridegroom perspective of the heart of God, I believe it has more to do with heartsickness from Jesus, than it has to do with flat out anger and disappointment. It’s common for us as humans, that when we have grieved relationships with others, we can often feel a pit in our stomach, and have the feeling that we need to throw up to make it resolve itself. I believe this is exactly what Jesus is saying to this ministry.
And related to the aqueduct, we know that because of its large amount of stone (6-miles worth) it collected calcium deposits which would regularly induce vomiting in those that drank from it. And because of its length, the water started very hot, but by the time it reached the city it had become lukewarm or tepid. I believe that this has more to do with the ineffectiveness of the water than it has to do with it being lukewarm. Cold water is refreshing and wonderful to enjoy on a warm day. And in the same way that a hot springs has medicinal purposes for the human body that soaks in it, so this water was at its starting point, but by the time it reached the city it was unable to do anything either positive or negative and thus Jesus deems it lukewarm or ineffective. Again, this conclusion is a mixture of understanding the heart of God (Bridegroom) and understanding the local context (the 6-mile stone aqueduct) that Jesus was most likely addressing.
Unfortunately for this ministry, Jesus isn’t done with His Accusation against them. He continues in Revelation 3:17 with a really heavy rebuke stating against them 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. If you notice, Jesus’ Accusation of them is solely based on the confession of their lives before both Him and others. We all know that our confession includes much more than our words, in fact in includes the way we live our lives before both God and others. What’s also clear about the judgment of Jesus against this ministry is that the very thing God used to bless them, has become the very thing that Jesus is now judging, their personal and cooperate wealth. For many this truth is hard to swallow, but it’s something that can’t be ignored.
Many people are given a leadership gift from the Holy Spirit, but it’s also that very same gift, not stewarded correctly that can end up being the downfall of their lives. It’s not that what Jesus gives is bad, it’s just that when we don’t steward it rightly before Him and others, we can end up on the other side of His judgments. For this ministry, God had sowed them in a wealthy region, but because they didn’t steward it rightly, the wealth ended up enslaving them and trapping them in lethargy. They were now ineffective in their presentation of the Gospel because they had become wealthy externally, and didn’t need God for anything. This is the challenge of wealth.
Often times when I don’t have wealth, I reach hard for God, but when financial increase comes my way, I can tend to back off from my persistent pursuit of Him. The idea is this: God doesn’t want me broke so that I pray more, or rich so I don’t pray at all. He wants me in the middle of the road, praying and reaching hard for Him whether I have wealth or not.
According to Jesus, this Church’s confession of themselves was very different than His confession of them. They said that they were rich, but Jesus said they were poor. The Church was externally wealthy but spiritually broke internally. They had money externally but no heart-connect internally with Jesus in the midst of it. This Church had become independent and didn’t need God. It’s true that that our prayer meetings within our Churches only thrive where people actually see their need for God. If there’s no need for God, then the prayer meetings wane and dwindle. Because only humble people pray.
In the middle of this Church’s ignorance about their true spiritual state, Jesus lets them know that their confession of themselves is different than His confession of them. It’s important that we work to make sure that our confession of ourselves agrees with Jesus’ confession of our lives. It has occurred to me, while preaching through this book, that five of the Seven Churches (Ephesus, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis and Laodicea) had no idea how Jesus thought about them. In the following Chapter I am going to spend ample time breaking open this very thought. But for now, it should terrify us that it’s entirely possible to be running hard in ministry even impacting others while moving further and further away from Jesus. These five Churches were so disconnected from Jesus’ evaluation of their lives that He had to physically step in and bring it to their attention in the most dramatic ways.
Operating within the same structure as Jesus has done with the other six Churches, He moves from His Accusation of them to His Advice for them. This is something that makes Jesus so incredible. Though this ministry is laden with great compromise and complacency, Jesus is going to give them Advice on how to move away from His judgments to His blessing. Jesus does this because He doesn’t want to condemn this ministry, He wants to promote it. But because He is the Faithful and True Witness, He is forced to tell them the truth. He says to them in Revelation 3:18 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.
This Advice from Jesus is based on His eternal perspective not their temporal one. Because Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega He sees the end from the beginning, which causes Him to speak from His eternal abode back into the present, helping us to make changes here based on where we are going. When Jesus Accused them, He mentioned five specific things they were struggling with and needed to get free from. He said to them …you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked… His Advice, which is going to be three primary things (buy gold, buy white garments and anoint your eyes) are going to be in direct response to these five areas that He addressed within them.
Firstly, Jesus says ..buy gold from Me…that you may be rich… Jesus is instructing them to stop purchasing gold within their city in the natural and instead to buy gold from Him. The earthly gold is actually keeping them steeped in lethargy and the gold that Jesus gives will move them into wholeheartedness. Laodicea was a wealthy banking city and what they were trading in the natural wasn’t helping them at all. Purchasing gold from Jesus means that we embrace a crucified life of holding out Jesus’ words to the world in which we live. It means that we no longer go with the flow of our culture or even the Church culture.
Secondly, Jesus says to them …and buy white garments that you might be clothed, so that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed. Within this city they were producing a large amount of extremely soft, glossy, raven black wool that was bringing them a mighty profit. History says that there was also a pagan practice of dressing the dead in white and the living in black, and to this, Jesus might have been contrasting what the majority of the city was doing, by telling them to get white garments in the living. Jesus is making it clear that the woolen looms of their city weren’t able to cleanse their internal iniquity. Because Jesus is the tenderest Man in world history, He doesn’t want this ministry to suffer loss when they stand before Him and He have to expose their nakedness, so He tells them the truth now, in this age.
Thirdly, Jesus Advises them to …anoint their eyes with eye slave that they may see… Within this city there was a large, fairly prominent medical school that was known for something called Phrygian powder. From this powder they would make both an eye and ear ointment that was well known throughout the region. But to this city that was known for treating the shortsightedness of others, they were unable to see their own shortsightedness. We call this a blind-spot which is simply an area in our own life that we just can’t see on our own without the help of others. But Jesus’ cure to their shortsightedness was to stop purchasing and using medicine in the natural and to purchase medicine from Him that would change their spiritual condition before Him.
The truth is, Jesus wants me to be wealthy, clothed and to have perfect eyesight. And because of this, He is relentless in talking to me about my life. It’s important to say that this isn’t talking about purchasing the spiritual or Jesus with money, but about purchasing that which we can’t get on our own. This is a call to use the grace of God that we have been given to respond to Jesus in a wholehearted manner, with a rigorous lifestyle of prayer, fasting, Bible study, community living and serving. The grace of God that we have received through the free gift of salvation is strong enough to motivate anyone into a wholehearted lifestyle which is why every person who names the name of Christ is called into one (Matthew 5-7). Wholeheartedness as opposed to complacency is for everyone, not just the spiritually elite. This is Christianity 101, or basic Christianity.
While still giving them Advice He encourages them by saying in Revelation 3:19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Jesus was training the Church of Laodicea in the same way that He trains us today, through His judgments. That word, chasten, literally means to scourge, to inflict suffering or punishment. Yes, I just said that your Beloved Jesus inflicts suffering and punishment upon those He loves for the purpose of refining them and removing those things within us that hinder love through us. He is committed to raising up a pure bride who is fully made ready for the Day of her wedding, and He goes to great lengths to make sure it takes place. Because Jesus is eternal, He knows that this Church is going to extremely sad on that Day when they stand before Him if they don’t make any changes, so He doesn’t mind inflicting pain into our present for the purpose of changing our future.
From this reality, of how and why He deals with individual Christians and ministries, we can also see how He deals with cities, regions and nations. It’s not that God judges cities, regions and nations because He’s angry, but rather because He’s in love. His judgments are being released among the nations, and will only continue to increase as we continue to approach His return. His purpose is to produce more love in the nations, not less. His judgments are removing everything that hinders love. This means that we should trust Jesus’ words and activity in our lives in with the same intensity that we trust Him to save us from hell. It’s the same Jesus who intervenes in our lives to tell us the truth that saves us from hell. This means we ought to cling to the conviction of Christ and allow it to move us from complacency.
Jesus continues in the Ravished heart mode in Revelation 3:20 when He says 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. As I stated in the opening paragraphs of this chapter, this is another one of the most quoted verses in the Bible. Although it’s often used for compelling non-Christians to give their lives to Jesus, this is not of the context of this passage. It’s okay to use it for people to give their lives to Jesus; it’s just not the context of the verse. The context of this verse is that Jesus is knocking on the door of the heart of this Church’s leadership who are already in Christ. This Church is in a very broken state, and Jesus is standing before them asking for entrance into the entirety of who they are to help them sort through the mess they are currently in.
Jesus isn’t knocking and asking for entrance into a small part of their lives, or a portion of their heart, but into the whole of who they are. Because Jesus has already opened wide His heart to them, He is demanding (asking forcefully) that they also open up theirs to Him. In the very following chapter, Revelation 4:1 this is what John has to say After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me saying, come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this. I love that right after Jesus asks them to open up their heart to Him, they see the wide open heart of God towards them. This is true of our Beloved Shepherd; He doesn’t ask us to do anything that He’s not also willing to do. We are to open our hearts to Him because He has opened His heart to us.
I like to call this knock at the door of the heart the knock of voluntary love. It’s my belief that this door only has a handle on the inside and not on the outside. The reason I believe this way, is because God has given us the dignity of choosing to love Him or not, which means He doesn’t want robots that love Him because they have to. He wants voluntary lovers that have said yes to Him because they want to, not because they have to. So instead of breaking down our door and forcing Himself upon us, He stands outside and knocks, asking, hoping, insisting that we open up to Him and allow Him to come in and help us. I mean seriously, how absurd is it that we often resist Him, fight against Him, when God Himself is longing to come into our lives, sit with us in our brokenness and share a meal with us. The uncreated God, the Eternal One, is longing to eat with humans, who are struggling with deep sin and compromise. Because we see so foggy in this age, we often do the unthinkable: hear Him knocking and refuse to open. God help us.
Meals also meant something more in the ancient world than they do today in our modern world. To eat with someone meant you were sharing intimacy, communion, confidence and affection with them. Jesus was chided by religious leaders for eating with people (Luke 15:2). Peter also was rebuked, not for preaching to a Gentile, but for eating with him (Acts 11:3). And Paul even went as far as to say that Christians shouldn’t even eat a meal with other Christians who are in gross unrepentant sin (1st Corinthians 5:9-13).
Hearing Jesus’ voice is good, but hearing it and responding to it in a worthy manner is best. I know many Christians that hear Jesus’ voice but seldom respond to it in a God honoring fashion. I myself have struggled to always respond to Jesus’ knock at the door of my heart. Often times what He’s asking me to do is so personal and difficult to let go of, I can fight Him off, resisting Him and His kindness to me in my struggle. Our heart is deceitful, wicked and full of abomination. It’s a dark cavern that I never want to mine out.
And lastly Jesus gives both the Assurance of eternal reward and His final Appeal to this incredibly jacked up Church. He says to them in Revelation 3:21-22 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches. Time will not do me justice to open up the eternal reward that’s being offered to this ministry if they respond to Jesus rightly. And in all honesty, I haven’t a clue what even the surface meaning of it is. To one of the most struggling Churches, they are offered a throne to sit on, like the one Jesus received from His Father??? How is that even possible? These rewards are beyond our ability to comprehend in this age. But just because it’s hard to understand, it shouldn’t detour us from going after it with all of our hearts. Just think about it, your worthy heart response, through the power and Person of the Holy Spirit in this age, could land you on a throne judging nations and sharing Jesus’ rule and reign in the age which is yet to come.
Jesus’ Appeal, is endearing, tender and compassionate. He’s is pleading not only with the Church of Laodicea but also with you, with me, that we would listen to the conviction of the Holy Spirit and make the proper changes so that the shame of our nakedness isn’t exposed on that Day. I personally want to live in the sweet communion of the Holy Spirit in such a way that I don’t fight Him, resist Him or reject Him. Let His voice enter into our ears but then move into our heart, producing the change that’s needed!