Seven Churches - Part 7a
February 26, 2017
Usually you save the best for last, but not in the case of the seven churches. Today we visit the church in Laodicea, which receives the harshest rebuke from Jesus and no praise.
There is more in this text than we could ever hope to unpack, but I’m going to try in two sermons, maybe three. I’m also going to try and slow down a little, spending more time mining nuggets of truth from Jesus’ letter to the Laodiceans and here’s why.
As I mentioned in the introduction to the series, some believe the seven churches are prophetic in the sense that they describe seven ages the church has been through since her birth. Remember, they were real, literal churches existing at the time John was given the visions recorded in the book of Revelation, and each of them literally received and heard these letters read to them in a cycle according to ancient postal routes, starting with Ephesus and ending with Laodicea.
But we cannot ignore the fact that it is a book of prophecy, and many prophecies had immediate and future meanings. Now I haven’t said much about the “ages” interpretation because we can’t be sure it’s legitimate and it’s hard to pin down the chronology, but if the churches do represent periods of church history, then surely we are living in the Laodicean age, at least here in the West.
As we visit the last of the seven churches, see if the parallels between her and the state of the church in the present age aren’t striking and frightening.
Here’s another reason I’m having to slow down and break this message into two or three parts. More than any of the seven, knowledge of the city’s history, geography, and economy sheds light on Jesus’ words.
So buckle up and here we go..
Laodicea was founded in 261 BC by the Seleucid king Antiochus II and named in honor of his wife, Laodice, whom he later divorced. You know what they say, don’t name a city after or get a tattoo of your boo because you never know.
By the time of John’s writing Laodicea was renowned for three things: her wealth, her wool, and her school of medicine.
The city was wealthy because it was situated at the crossroads of important trade routes running across the district of Phrygia. It profited greatly from all the traffic. Laodicea was, in fact, the banking centre of the whole region.
If you remember, Philadelphia (which was about 60 miles northwest of Laodicea) had suffered a massive earthquake in 17AD. It all but leveled the city. The emperor exempted them from tribute and provided financial help in rebuilding.
Laodicea, likewise, experienced a massive quake in 61AD. The emperor offered aid once again, but they proudly turned it down. They were so rich they didn’t need it.
The city was also well known for producing a very rare and highly prized black wool sheared from sheep bred only in that area. People from all over the civilized world were dying to have a garment made from Laodicean wool. It was the fashion craze. I guess it was kind of like cashmere which I know is a big deal but I don’t know why.
The city was also famous for it’s school of medicine. It was THE place to go to train as doctors, kind of like a Gray’s Anatomy but with togas. The school specialized in ophthalmology, producing a much sought after eye salve that was said to heal a number of ailments.
One scholar explains that even though Laodicea seemed to have it all, the one thing it didn’t have was…
“… good water…There [were], however, two other sources of water, one to the north and the other to the southeast. To the north, standing high on a dramatic cliff, [was] the city of Hierapolis. It boasts to this day a set of hot springs to which tourists come from all over the world; the hot, chemically charged water comes bubbling out of the ground (channelled, today, into the bathing pools of various hotels), and spills over the cliff, leaving a white mineral deposit visible from miles around. In the first century they built aquaducts to bring this water across to Laodicea in the centre of the valley, four or five miles away. They can still be seen today—with their insides covered in hardened mineral deposit. But by the time the water arrived in Laodicea it was no longer hot. It was merely lukewarm. What was worse, the concentrated chemicals made it unsuitable to drink, unless for medicinal reasons you wanted to make yourself physically sick.
To the south-east of Laodicea was the town of Colosse. It, too, had suffered badly in the earthquake of ad 61, but had not been rebuilt. Colosse, however, had a splendid supply of water, flowing down from high, snow-capped Mount Cadmus: fast-flowing, chilly streams of almost Alpine quality. But by the time the water reached Laodicea, 11 miles away, the normal Turkish heat meant that it, too, had become lukewarm.”
It is to the Christians here Christ directs his letter…
Revelation 3:14 (ESV) — 14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
Jesus described himself as the Amen.
This is the only place Jesus is called this in all of Scripture. It is of Hebrew origin and means truthful certainty, of a fixed, true, and unchangeable nature. “The concept in [it’s use] is credibility, the certainty that all this person says will be accomplished.”
It is no accident then the apostle John records Jesus using the phrase “Truly, Truly” (which is the same word translated here as Amen) twenty five times in his gospel.
John 3:3 (ESV) — 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
John 5:24 (ESV) — 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
Jesus is the faithful and true Witness
We’ve already seen Jesus described like this…
Revelation 1:5 (ESV) — 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness…
Revelation 3:7 (ESV) — 7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one…
When someone tells you you the truth they may or may not be right (I’m not trying to be mean, but…), but when Jesus tells you something, there’s nothing to think about or process; it’s true because faithfulness and truthfulness are his very nature.
Jesus also described himself as the beginning of God’s creation
This does not imply that Christ was the first created being, demoting his deity. It refers to Him as the originator or initiator or source of all that God created, emphasizing His divinity. Paul mirrored this idea in Colossians (refuting heretics of his day and ours)…
Colossians 1:15–16 (ESV) — 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
Once commentator explains it like this…
… “Firstborn” implies both Christ’s priority to all Creation (in time) and His sovereignty over all Creation (in rank).
If all things were created by him, he himself could not be created! Once again, the apostle John helps us with this…
John 1:1–3 (ESV) — 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
This is why Jesus could not be just a man. This is why he made the claims about himself being equal with God, forgiving sins, and being the only way to heaven.
Christ had nothing good to say about the church at Laodicea. So we move into the most scathing of all the condemnations…
Revelation 3:15–16 (ESV) — 15 “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
There are two ways Jesus’ words here have been interpreted. We’ll look at the first today.
Maybe when Jesus said he’d rather they be cold or hot, he was speaking in terms of opposites. Over here you have hot and over here you have cold and they are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Verse 19, where Jesus tells them what to do to get right, may tie into the idea of hot in v. 15…
Revelation 3:19 (ESV) — 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
That word zealous means earnest desire, to set your heart completely on something. Maybe being hot for Jesus means to set your heart completely on him and his kingdom. That makes sense. It’s easy to understand that Jesus wants us to be hot, to be earnest Christians.
But in this interpretation, cold would have to be the reverse, to not to believe in or have a desire for the things of God at all. And lukewarm would be somewhere in between, describing someone claiming to follow Christ but not having a real, inner desire for him. Someone who talked the talked but didn’t really walk the walk.
At first thought we wonder, how could Jesus want someone to be cold, to not have a desire for him over being in the middle? At least someone dead center would likely have come to know Christ, even though they weren’t living for him with zeal or passion at the moment. But every pastor and ministry worker gets this.
It is next to impossible to get someone who’s lukewarm, who claims to be a Christian but really has no love for the things of God, to do anything. They are, in way, useless. You can almost never get them to move much farther along than they already are.
Now I am not trying to be mean nor am I talking about anyone’s family here, and I’m being general when I say this, but over the years I have learned not to expend much energy trying to reach folks whose names are on the rolls but never attend (anywhere). I’m talking about people who have walked an aisle and stepped into the waters of baptism and as far I know have been born again but somewhere on the journey pulled out or drifted away. Folks who became lukewarm. Trying to reach them almost NEVER works.
Of course their are also folks who occupy a pew every Sunday that for all intents and purposes are lukewarm as well. They are not zealous for the things of God either. Church is just “meh.” They are just as hard to reach.
I’d much rather deal with a Hell’s Angel than a lukewarm Christian! If they get saved, they get saved and there isn't any doubt about it.
Tim Keller talks about how he and his wife Kathy learned this in youth ministry…
I remember when Kathy and I first moved to Virginia and we tried to start to reach out to the youth in the neighborhood. There were really two kinds of youth in our neighborhood in that little town in Virginia. The first were kids who just thought Christianity was stupid. They thought it wasn’t true. They thought it was a crock. They were cold. Then you had all kinds of kids, especially in a small town in Virginia, who had been raised in various churches all their lives.
Now who would you rather minister to? What kind of teenager would you rather reach out to if you were trying to bring teenagers into connection with Jesus Christ and who he is and what he has done? I’ll tell you. It’s the ones who didn’t believe at all. You could talk with them. You could level with them. You could speak with them. If they actually came to believe, there was zeal. There was intimacy. There was wonder. There was passion and joy.
But when you talked to the kids who were raised in the churches for so long, if you questioned their Christian beliefs they would be very offended. If you questioned their behavior they would be offended. They said, “I’m following all of the rules.” Yet in the Bible studies, rather than actually attending to what you were talking about, they would snigger and tell jokes and laugh. They would take the whole thing lightly, and it was clear they were blind to the beauty and wonder of the gospel.
Russell Moore identifies as well. In a recent message he related his early years in youth ministry.
Think about Jesus' ministry. What kind of folks did he hang around?
The pope may be on to something. He recently said it is better to be an atheist than a bad Christian.
How does Jesus feel about indifferent, apathetic, lukewarm believers?
Look back at verse 16 for some of the scariest words ever spoken by Jesus...
Revelation 3:16 (ESV) — 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
N.T. Wright explains this better than I ever could, and this applies whichever way you interpret what cold or hot means…
Indeed, the word ‘Laodicean’ has become proverbial for ‘lukewarmness’, with the meaning of ‘apathetic’, ‘neither one thing nor the other’. So Jesus addresses the church with a mixture of sorrow and, it seems, real anger: ‘You are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth.’ ‘Vomit’ is not too strong a word here. Jesus is disgusted at the taste of Laodicean Christianity. It makes him sick.
What a heart wrenching reprimand. I do not believe Jesus implies a loss of salvation or that the Laodiceans weren’t really saved because of what he will say in the correction section later.
Conclusion: Let me remind you as I close of what I mentioned at the beginning. If the seven churches represent church ages then surely the last church represents our age. And if you think about it, we surely are lukewarm as a whole.
Think of this individually.
There were many deaf people on my mother's side of the family. One of my aunt’s was deaf but it didn't slow her down. Her husband would often sign to her, “Put a stob down and come back tomorrow.” That's what farmer’s did when plowing their fields.
So let’s put a stob down and come back next Sunday.
Content Copyright Belongs to Pleasant View First Baptist Church