Jesus’ Letter to Laodicea
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write… Revelation 3:14-22 NIV
Laodicea was the seventh and last of the seven churches in the book of Revelation to whom the Apostle John wrote letters. The quite extensive, excavated ruins of Laodicea are located near the village of Eskihisar, Turkey. Strategically situated on seven hills it was founded in 261 BC in the geographical area known as Phrygia by a Greek king, Antiochus II. It was named after his wife Laodice. Remnants of the city include an amphitheater, smaller theatre called an odeon, and the largest stadium in Asia Minor seating 25,000 people. Known as the “Gateway to Phrygia” it was one of Asia Minor’s most flourishing cities primarily because of its trade route location on what was known as the Royal Road which ran from the Susa, the capital of Persia, all the way to Sardis. It was a main banking center for the area, had a medical school, and was a center for the worship of the pagan deity Zeus. It had textile factories supplying the Greco-Roman world with sleeved tunics and hooded cloaks made from the fine black wool supplied by sheep in the area. The city was so wealthy, that when it was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 60 AD, it declined Roman assistance opting to rebuild at its own expense, the only city in Asia to do so.
In the 1st Century AD when the letter was written, Laodicea had a population of 100,000 with a large community of Jews. Both gentile and Jewish converts from this city formed what might be considered a hub for Christianity, located just six miles west of Hierapolis and ten miles northwest of Colossae. The apostle Paul makes mention of Laodicea four times in his letter to the Colossians. From his references we gather his “great concern” for the saints there and an understanding that he knows a number of them personally (2:1). We also know that a colleague of Paul’s named Epaphras, actively ministered there as well as in Colossae and Hierapolis. Some scholars conjecture that Epaphras may have founded the church in Laodicea (4:13). There was obviously a mutual interchange of fellowship and encouragement between the believers in the three cities as Paul urged that his letter to the Colossians “be read in the church of the Laodiceans” (4:15-16).
Now, while keeping this important background information on Laodicea in mind, here is an overview of the letter from the Book of Revelation with some explanatory comments (3:14-22 NIV). It follows the pattern and order used in all seven of the letters as outlined in the introductory blog post on the Letters to the Seven Churches.
1. Revelation of Jesus– “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation” (v. 14). This revelation of Jesus is taken from John’s description in chapter one where Jesus is described as “the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (v. 5). This is a fitting final revelation of Jesus to be cited in the letters and specifically for the believers in Laodicea. It underscores the importance and truthfulness of all that is being revealed as coming from the most convincing witness possible, Jesus Himself. It declares that in the midst of all the worldly temptations, deceptions, and persecutions, Jesus rules overall and is the one to whom we must look for salvation and victory.
2. Commendation– Unlike any of the other churches, there is no commendation given by Jesus to the Laodiceans. This is obviously concerning as it would appear with nothing to be commended, that the church was in a dire condition with regard to its spiritual health. It is as if Laodicea was the “black sheep” of the seven churches, which is an appropriate designation given its renown for its black wool textile industry.
3. Corrective Rebuke – “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (vs. 15-17). Here we see the seriousness of the church’s condition clearly revealed. In Heaven’s eyes Laodicea is “lukewarm” in its devotion to Jesus and “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” What a stinging indictment from Jesus. The tragedy of this church is their own self-deception. Thinking they are “rich” and “do not need a thing” they have fallen prey to the delusion of self-sufficiency and self-accomplishment in the pursuit of this world’s riches, while forsaking what it means to be rich toward God. The worldly Laodicean pride in its economic and cultural achievements obviously infiltrated the church creating complacent, spiritually lukewarm believers.
The use of a water temperature metaphor to describe different types of Christians as either lukewarm, hot, or cold, is one people in Laodicean could readily understand. Situated as a city between the hot thermal pools of Hierapolis to the west and the cool mountain streams of Mount Cadmus to the east, residents knew full well the repugnance of lukewarm water in comparison. By the time their water from the Baspinar Spring located 5 miles to the south traveling by aqueduct and clay pipes finally reached them, the hot water of Hierapolis or the cold water of Cadmus would readily be preferred.
4. Predictive Warning or Counsel– ““I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. 19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent” (vs. 18-19). Here we have the remedy for being “poor, blind, and naked (v. 17). It is instructive to see how Jesus again uses contrasting analogies, this time with natural gold and clothing versus spiritual gold and clothing. Again, Laodiceans would be very familiar with the high value placed on this world’s riches represented by gold and the expensive clothing it could buy, especially the luxuriant black woolen tunics and cloaks manufactured locally. But Jesus pointedly takes what his listeners understand in the natural and challenges them to see it from a spiritual perspective. That which is most to be valued are the true riches of a purity of heart and character represented by the “gold refined by fire” – the remedy for being “poor” – and the “white clothes” of His righteous garments of salvation – His remedy for being “naked.”
The misplaced values of the church in Laodicea clearly indicates how spiritually blind they were. Ironically the city boasted of a medical clinic that specialized in healing eye problems. In fact one of the treatments prescribed for healing was the use of a locally produced salve made from powder produced in nearby Phrygia. Well, lo and behold, Jesus announces here that He has an even more powerful salve, to heal spiritual blindness. As with the gold and clothes, one need only come to Jesus to receive it.
5. Overcomer’s Promise– “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (vs. 21-22. Similar to the overcomer’s promise to the church in Thyatira, here again we see the reward of spiritual authority to those who respond to Jesus’ counsel. The prerequisites spelled out in this letter, for access into God’s presence and a sharing in His rule and reign, are in accord with many other scriptures in which purity of heart, a renewed mind, and righteousness by faith are emphasized. The enduring history of the church in Laodicea indicates many responded to the rebuke and challenge of this letter by repenting and opening the door of their lives afresh to Jesus. For this, as with all seven of the churches, we can praise God for the faithful cloud of witnesses in Asia Minor who took the rebukes of Jesus seriously and chose to be overcomers.
Be sure to check out the four minute video posted above which was filmed at the Laodicea ruins for a first-hand look at this historic city.
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