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Saturday, 13 August 2016 23:33

26. Church in Laodicea, reaching rock bottom * Revelation 3:14-22, Part 1 of 2

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14 And unto 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;

15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot: I would that you were cold or hot.

16 So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.

17 Because you say, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and know not that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:

18 I counsel you to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that you may be rich; and white clothing, that you may be clothed, and that the shame of your nakedness does not appear; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.

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

20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will eat with him, and he with me.

21 To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne.

22 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches.


*** Historical Setting ***: Laodicea was located 45 miles southeast of Philadelphia, and about 40 miles east of Ephesus (some sources say about 100 miles). It was, however, very near to Colossae, about 10 miles away. Today, its ruins are near the village of Eskihisar, in the district of Denizli Province, Turkey. It changed names a few times. During the reign of king Antiochus II Theos, who was in power from 261-243 BC, the city had its name changed to Laodiceia, in honor of his wife, Laodice. The Greek meaning of the name Laodicea comes from laos (people) + dike (just, right; relating to judgement). In 188 BC, it was ruled by the king of Pergamum, and in 133 BC, it fell to the Romans. Under the Roman Empire, the city flourished, and became one of the most popular commercial centers of Asia Minor, strategically located on the trade route. Laodicea received from Rome the title of Free City. During the reign of Antiochus III the Great (222 - 187 BC), 2,000 Jewish families were transported from Babylon to Frygia. And so, many inhabitants of Laodicea were Jews. It is believed that the they were sending gold from to the temple in Jerusalem annually.

The city was very beautiful, and even today, its ruins reflect a vibrant city of ancient times. Laodicea had a stadium, gymnasium, theaters, bath houses, a Senate House (bouleuterion), temples, and a sarcophagus. Its wealth contributed to the advancement of science and literature. Laodicea was also famous for the local school of medicine, especially because it offered treatment of eye problems, through a salve prepared there. Laodicea was also well known for the manufacturing of black wool, and for its banks. Yes, they already had banks back then! The city was so rich, it was able to mint its own coins. The inscription on those coins makes it evident that Laodiceans worshiped Zeus, Asclepius, Apollo, and the emperors. In the year 60 AD, there was a great earthquake that destroyed the city. The citizens refused Imperial funds to restore it, and decided to pay for the reconstruction themselves. They felt that no outside help was needed.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about Laodicea was the city’s aqueduct system. It received water from Hierapolis. There was a source of hot spring water in that region, and the Laodiceans found an ingenious way to bring it all the way to a few tanks in the outskirts of town. From there it was distributed inside the city. There was a problem keeping the water hot over the distance of 6 miles. The water was also heavy with minerals. By the time the it arrived in Laodicea, it was no longer hot. It was also not cold, but it had become lukewarm. The tepid temperature of the water made it good for bathing, but not good for human consumption. Not fresh enough for drinking, not warm enough for healing purposes.

*** Biblical View ***: Laodicea is not only mentioned in Revelation, but also in the book of Colossians (Colossians 2:1; Colossians 4:13; and Colossians 4:15-16). In Paul’s writings to the church in Colosse, he expressed his concern for them, and for the congregation in Laodicea. He cared deeply for the churches of the neighboring cities of Laodicea, Hierapolis and Colosse. Paul mentioned a letter to the Laodiceans that we do not have today, and encouraged the Colossians and Laodiceans to read each others epistles (Colossians 4:16).

The beginning of the letter to the Colossians reminds us of the beginning of the Revelation letter to Laodicea: “[Jesus,] Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him [...]. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.” Colossians 1:15-20)

In the letter to the Colossians, Paul is saying that Jesus is the center of everything that was ever created. All things were created by Him and for Him, not only on Earth, but also in Heaven. This text makes it clear that humans are not in the same category as Jesus and the Father. Our own status as created beings cannot be compared to Jesus’ oneness with the Father, as God.

Laodicea was in serious trouble according to Jesus’ assessment. The church members had need of nothing (verse 17). They were self-sufficient. But there is always a big problem with this mindset. It is a lot harder to make people understand their need for a Savior when they don’t need anything outside themselves and their possessions. They were looking to fulfill their physical and material needs aside from Jesus. They felt they deserved more material blessings, based on their own merits or size of their monetary contributions. The “I” and the “My” had become the center of everything, and Christ had been pushed out of the picture. As we read in verse 20, Jesus was outside, knocking at a shut door. Once more, we read about the problem of an ever-growing “Self”. The church in Ephesus had started to backslide on their love for God. With each of the five “not so good churches”, love for Self started to grow more and more. The problem became so bad in the church of Sardis, that they turned into a dead church. Laodicea then broke the record, and managed to become even worse than the dead church. And yet, it was unaware of its own condition.

We can see that the attitude of this church was the exact opposite of what John the Baptist preached: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30). Laodicea had replaced the Christ-centered Gospel with a Self-centered message. The selfish need ‘to increase' tends to strengthen with time. The elevation of Self to the status of divinity is the oldest evil concept of all. It worked on Eve. She was tempted with the idea that she would be like God if she ate of the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:5).

The truth is, not even on the Last Day, when we are transformed into perfect beings, we will be like God. The Laodiceans were focusing on material things, while keeping Jesus outside the door. They had an attitude of entitlement, as if they were worthy of being in the same level as God, on their own merit. They had their own gold, their own garments, and their own eye salve. All counterfeit signs of a relationship with Christ. No matter how good we are, Jesus is the only one who can save us from our misery, nakedness, and blindness. And to this church, Jesus offers the biggest blessing of all. This amazing blessing does not seem to fit the pitiful state of the church. To sit in God’s throne is a privilege that goes beyond anyone’s imagination. Jesus is not asking that we become gods ourselves in order to deserve such honor. He just asks that we let Him in. The reality is, we do not deserve anything other than death. But through Jesus’ blood, we are made worthy to sit with Him.

*** Overview ***: The church in Laodicea is a terrible church. It is egotistical, selfish and materialistic. But the one who overcomes such miserable lukewarm condition, will receive a blessing beyond measure. This act of repentance seems almost impossible, especially because the church is completely aloof as to how much it lacks spiritually. Only by the grace of Jesus Christ can this church overcome such an adverse reality. This will make it clear to the world that there was no merit in the overcomer. There could not be any worth in the one who overcomes, based on the church description we read in this letter. Nothing we do by ourselves can change our own nature to remotely resemble the one who is found worthy to sit in the throne of God. Such perfect character can only be developed by a daily relationship with Christ. Faith in ourselves, on our own “righteousness”, and on our own limited knowledge do not measure up to the gifts God can give us when we are connected to Him. The things we bring to this relationship are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has made us alive together with Christ, (by grace you are saved;) And has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:4-9). To the church that reached spiritual rock bottom, Jesus promised the greatest demonstration of grace and mercy. The church can experience the power of His transforming Love. Those who are willing will be pulled up to the highest position in the entire universe. They will sit with the Father in His throne, not because they are as God, but because they opened their heart for Christ to come in.

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