A Weekly Bible Study

Laodicea – The Lukewarm Church

Revelation 3:14-21

Last week we had such a treat looking at a church that got it right. Philadelphia is the church that all churches should seek to be like, but sadly, this week we will look at the worst of all the churches. The church at Laodicea could easily be any modern American church, and people described in this letter could be any typical American Christian. Since the majority of the readers of this blog fall in to that category, that could very well mean this section of Revelation is talking about you, directly.

Laodicea was a very wealthy town known for its black wool and eye salve. Previously we spoke about an earthquake in 17 A.D., which destroyed several towns in this region. At that time, Laodicea was also wiped out and rebuilt with Roman funds. In 60 A.D., another earthquake devastated the region, but this time they did not accept help from Rome, the town was wealthy enough not only to rebuild itself, but also to help other cities in the area.

From a religious standpoint, this town looked like the other six that we have seen so far. It has a strong Jewish community and various pagan temples. Based on Colossians 4:12-13, we know that a man named Epaphras planted the Christian church there and that he was a faithful friend and coworker of Paul. Paul did write them a letter (as mentioned in Colossians 4:16), like the other ones we have in the New Testament, but it has been lost to time.

As with the other six churches, Jesus’ introduction is tailored specifically for the situation in Laodicea. He starts out with a simple statement that he is the Amen, the faithful and true witness. As we will see as we develop this section, Jesus is saying, “I am exactly what you should be.” Amen here means “truth” and is a title reserved for God himself.

The next title for Jesus here is sometimes translated as “beginning of the creation of God,” (Rev 3:14). This is unfortunate because that wording carries the idea that Jesus was the first thing created, which is not the point of this phrase. The idea this phrase is trying to communicate is that Jesus was the source of creation. As it says in John 1:3, everything that was created, was created by Jesus and for Jesus (c.f. Colossians 1:16). Laodicea was populated by people who did not need God, they were self-sufficient, and would tell you they made their own way. Jesus is attacking that by reminding them that He created them, and all their material wealth.

Revelation 3:15-17 describes the primary problem at Laodicea, but before we look at what the text does say, we need to look at what is missing. First, there is no accommodation at all. Jesus has nothing positive to say about this church. Sardis was not much better off, but at least they had a reputation of being alive. Laodicea does not even have that. There is literally nothing Jesus commends them for; they are by far the worst of the lot. Also missing is any mention of persecution or complaints about the Jews. Since the church was not doing anything, they were not having any problems with the locals. They may have even been seen as good citizens.

Jesus’ indictment of them is that they are lukewarm. Someone that is “hot” (or “on fire”) for the Lord is someone that is excited about the ministry and what they can do for God. They are full of energy and are out doing things. Someone that is cold is unreached. They are spiritually dead (cold like a corpse). They do not know the Lord, nor the Gospel, but they are better off than those that are lukewarm, because someone that is lost can be found.

Those that are lukewarm, know the Gospel and are saved, but they have not let it impact their life. They went on with life as if they did not need God or Jesus. They were comfortable in their worldly success, and it had lulled their spiritual fever in to sleep. They did not rely on God for food, clothing or shelter as they had enough of all of that. They did not look for His help in problems because they solved them, themselves. In short, they knew God but did not see the need for Him. This fits with the general culture of the town, as this is the town that refused even human help when an earthquake destroyed it.

What is critical that we notice in this section is how Jesus feels about this kind of Christian. He says they sicken him and that he wants to spew them from his mouth. I could not imagine a much worse position than that. Top know that you sicken the God of all creation and make Him nauseas is beyond anything I could conceive of doing. Even still, Jesus’ love for his people is so great that even when we sicken Him, like Laodicea did, he still wants to help us.

Christian, as you read this look to your own life. Are you facing persecution? Are you finding yourself turning to God for help? Do you depend on God for your daily needs or are you like this church in that you have all that you need and are comfortable? If comfortable and content describes you, or your church, then it is possible you are in the same spot that Laodicea was in and that is exactly where the enemy wants you. As a lukewarm Christian or church, you are powerless and ineffective. No one is trying to reach you to help you because you are a Christian, but you are not having an effect because you are not reaching out. You think you are well off, but you are naked, poor and blind. Your comfort has so dulled your spiritual senses that you cannot even tell how bad off you are.

If any of us find ourselves in that situation, there is good news! Jesus seeks to come into our lives and fix that. Revelation 3:20 is often misused by evangelists to speak of Jesus seeking the lost, but the context tells us that Jesus is knocking on the door of His church, and wants to come in to fellowship with His people. Revelation 3:20 is about reconciliation of Jesus with His people. If the people open the door, he will re-enter their church and set things right. He will relight the fire in their souls and cure their blindness.

The message from the seven churches to the church of today is simple. Hold fast to His Word, and His Name and we will overcome the present age. We will inherit great rewards, power and authority in the age to come. If we have failed to do that then the simple formula of remember, repent, return will set us back on track. Remember from what we were saved, and who saved us. Repent of our sin, which means to change direction. Finally, return to Christ and his teaching so that we can relight our fire and begin to grow again in Him.

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