The Church of Laodicea: The Church that Grew Too Comfortable

Our studies now bring us to the final message of Jesus to the seven churches.   Of all Jesus’ comments to the churches, the one to the Church of the Laodiceans is undoubtedly the most sobering and solemn.  It surely evoked deep introspection among the believers in that ancient city and, we trust, a repentant spirit.  But Jesus’ final message was by no means written only to that place so far removed from us in time and geography.  Jesus’ words are just as apt to us personally in the context of our present lives and in today’s culture.

To reiterate what we have learned already, there are four possible ways to interpret the messages Jesus sent to the seven churches of Asia.

  1. The seven churches were actual churches to which Jesus had a specific message and specific exhortations.
  2. The churches symbolically represent seven different types of assemblies of Christians that can exist at any given time.
  3. The seven churches symbolically represent discernible stages in church history.
  4. The messages to the churches are recorded in the Bible to be an encouragement and a warning to all Christians both in the corporate sense and as individual believers.

Certainly, all four interpretive perspectives are valid but for our present study, the final two views are particularly pertinent.  Jesus’ last message to the churches goes beyond the recipients in the first century and represents His exhortation to us, those living in the final days prior to His glorious return.  Each of us must, therefore, be constantly vigilant to guard against a Laodicean spirit.

Jesus’ message to Laodicea is as follows:

“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: “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.  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— 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.  As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.  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. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ’ ”  Revelation 3:14-22

The City of Laodicea

In all the seven letters, the cities to which the messages were addressed give remarkable clues as to the trials and difficulties besetting the Christians residing there.   The church in Laodicea was no exception.  Let us consider the city of Laodicea itself to gain helpful insights.

The name Laodicea means “rule of the people.”   Oftentimes we regard democracy as the highest form of government, but it is by no means so.  The highest form of government is a beneficent monarchy or, put more specifically, a theocratic kingdom in which Jesus Himself reigns.  In contrast, a government ruled by the people by definition excludes God and sadly such was the case with Laodicean church.  We find Jesus standing outside, knocking to get in.

The city of Laodicea was founded during the third century before Christ.  It was located on a plateau, a feature which ensured it would be secure from enemy attack.  The location would seemingly be ideal were it not for the city’s vulnerable water supply.  Laodicea depended on water from the neighboring city of Hierapolis located ten kilometers (six miles) to the north.   Water from the hot springs of Hierapolis was piped via aqueduct to Laodicea, however by the time the water arrived it was insipid and tepid.  It was neither hot nor cold.

Laodicea was located on an important commercial trade route and became quite prosperous.  In fact, the city became so wealthy and self-reliant that when it was partially destroyed by an earthquake in AD 61, it refused offers of Roman assistance to re-build, insisting instead that it could take care of itself.

Laodicea was known for three things:

It was a wealthy city and a financial center.

A lustrous black wool was produced there which was woven into much-desired clothing.

It was the location of a temple dedicated to Asklepios.  Associated with the temple was a medical school. It is also likely that a medicine known as Phrygian powder was formulated in Laodicea.  Phrygian power was used as an eye salve.

Jesus’ Message and Admonishments

Jesus begins His message to Laodicea (and to us) by describing Himself as the Amen.  The word amen means “truth.”   The obvious point of using this title is that if the Laodiceans said they were rich and Jesus said they were poor, who is right?  Jesus is the truth.  He is the Amen.  It is of vital importance that we consider our lives from Jesus’ perspective, not from comparing ourselves with others.

Next, Jesus turns to the crux of the problem in Laodicea.  It was one of indifference.  They had languished into lifestyles that were so comfortable that their relationship with their true Provider and Sustainer seemed to be an afterthought.  In a manner reminiscent of the days when the city had been destroyed by the earthquake, the Laodociean Christians of Jesus’ time felt they could take care of things by themselves.  They didn’t take notice of the One who loved them the most.

There can be no greater offense done to one whom you purportedly love than to not even notice him.  In chapter two of Revelation, we saw that the problem besetting the Ephesian church was that of lost love.  But in Laodicea, the problem was much graver—total apathy.

The Laodiceans were comfortable and contented, but the Lord reveals to them that they were actually impoverished.  He tells them to seek true wealth, that which comes only from walking in His ways.  Instead of garments of black wool, He tells them to clothe themselves with the white gowns of righteousness.  Instead of the Phrygian eye salve He exhorts the Laodiceans to anoint their eyes with His Word so that they can truly see their spiritual needs.

And then Jesus says something surprising and shocking.  He tells the Laodiceans that He is standing outside and knocking to come in.  Surely no one could imagine the Creator and Lord of the universe would describe Himself in this way, but it is true.  Jesus’ heart is ever toward His creature.  He seeks to join us and to share the richness of His fellowship and the depth of His love, blessing our lives in ways no earthly possessions could ever equal.  As William Barclay stated, “It would be great enough to think of a God who accepted men when they came back; it was beyond belief to think of a God who actually went out and searched!”

Jesus ends His messages to the churches with a universal call to respond.  “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  May our ears indeed be open to the One who is truth and love.

This concludes the series on seven churches of Revelation. Here are the direct links to all articles published so far in this series

  1. The Messages to the Seven Churches of Revelation: Their Meaning and Their Application to Our Lives
  2. The Message to the Church of Ephesus: The Most Important Thing
  3. The Church of Smyrna: The Love of Christ is Always Present
  4. The Church of Pergamos: Lessons on the Insidious Attacks of Satan
  5. The Church of Thyatira: The Church Where Sin Was Justified
  6. The Church of Sardis: The Dead Church
  7. The Church of Philadelphia: Lessons on Love

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