Laodicea: The complacent caboose! (Last of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor)

(Thirteenth of our articles on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.  Revelation 1-3)

“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….'”  (Revelation 3:14ff).

Pastor Jim Phillips (North Greenwood Baptist Church, Greenwood, MS) was telling the congregation last Sunday night about his ordination into the ministry over 30 years back.  As he knelt for the laying on of hands–an interminable period when deacons and ministers slowly file by, placing hands atop his head and whispering words of challenge, encouragement or a prayer–finally, it was Pastor Frank Pollard’s turn.  He whispered words Jim would never forget:  “I’m the last; you can get up now.”

Not exactly what he’d been expecting.

Laodicea is the last.  The final stop on our tour of seven interesting churches of the western half of present-day Turkey.

You can get up now.

Certainly the first of the seven churches–Ephesus which had lost its first love–and the last–Laodicea, lukewarm and repulsive to the Lord–are the most unforgettable.  And probably the two most like ourselves and our own churches.  So many of our churches today imitate Ephesus and go about their work routinely and robotically, forgetting to love one another, while others imitate Laodicea in being neither fervent nor frigid but somewhere in the sickening in-between.  The Lord is neither impressed nor amused.

The city–

We’re told Antiochus II founded the city and named it for his wife Laodice.  It had much going for it:

–It was a rich city, the center of banking for the surrounding region.

–It was a manufacturing center noted for the quality of its black wool.

–It was a medical center.  The local medical school produced an eye salve much in demand.

Three Roman roads converged there.  And when an earthquake devastated the city, the fathers rejected Rome’s offer to fund the rebuilding and and took care of it themselves.  There was also a large Jewish population here.

The church–

Known as the lukewarm church and the complacent church, it may have been founded by Epaphras.  Paul mentions the church in Colossians 4:16.  Man, do we wish we had Paul’s letter to this church. But wait–maybe we do.  Some think the Epistle to the Ephesians is that letter.  The oldest manuscripts of Ephesians do not contain the words “in Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1), leading scholars to think this may have been a circular letter intended for all the churches throughout that area.  There’s nothing personal in Ephesians, no names of individuals and no references to specific events.  The generality of it suggests it was a circular letter.

The Laodicean church would have made a fascinating contestant on American Idol, but not the winning kind.  (The kind of contestant who is fooling only himself!)

This television program, which mercifully ran its course and has been superseded by other programs of similar stripe, featured some talented and some amazingly untalented people who were all too ready to demonstrate same before the cameras in a vain hope for fame and fortune.  Viewers sitting at home–I was often among them–would watch some of these untalented, self-deceived performers and shake their heads.  And when the judges informed them they had no talent and should stop fooling themselves and go on back to whatever they were doing back in Smalltown, USA, many of these fantasizers would weep and declare, “I’ll show you!”  It was a wonderful lesson for humanity on the determination of the self-deluded to live in their own little cocoon.  People do that all the time n many ways.

The Laodiceans were fooling themselves. They thought they had it together, that they were something special.  They said, “I am rich and need nothing,” but did not know they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.

Ignorance and arrogance are a dangerous combination!

–They were wretched. This is not a putdown from a harsh preacher or uncaring teacher. This was the judgement of the One who should know!  (We sing of the amazing grace “that saved a wretch like me.”  Talk show host Phil Donahue interrupted Jeannie C. Riley as she sang “Amazing Grace” on his show.  “That’s the problem I have with your religion,” he said. “I am not a wretch.”  It’s worth noting that the song is merely saying that’s what we were before the Lord saved us.  Also, it’s not saying “you” are one, but that I “was.”

–They were miserable. Job said of his friends, “Miserable comforters are you all” (Job 16:2).

–They were poor.  To be poor is to be helpless and at the mercy of conditions.

–They were blind.  They could not see what was real and what was fake, what to do, and what to value.

–They were naked.  They were humiliating themselves before the world.

Here’s how Eugene Peterson phrased this statement from our Lord to Laodicea: “You make me want to vomit!  You brag, ‘I’m rich.  I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone,’ oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.”

They were lukewarm.

Nearby Hierapolis offered hot springs and up the road a piece was Colossae, famous for its cold, refreshing mountain stream.  The waters of Laodicea, however, had to flow for miles through an aqueduct and arrived dirty and tepid.  Visitors who were not used to it would spit it out.  The water was much like this congregation.

What does this mean to us?

Why the Lord was rebuking this church….

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” (3:19)  The chastening is a sign of his love.  We conjure up images of a parent about to discipline a child and saying, “I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t love you.”  Even though the child protests, it’s true.  (See Hebrews 12:6.)

They had excluded the Lord Jesus in some ways.  That’s how we are to understand verse 20, that famous never-to-be-repeated verse that we preachers love to use in encouraging people to receive Christ.

Are we out of order using this verse for evangelism?  I keep hearing professors and others say so.  But I beg to differ.  The graphic picture it gives is unbeatable.

Think of what it conveys:   The Lord Jesus wants to give the blessings of Heaven to His people.  He brings them right up to the front door, but then He stops.  He will not force the blessings of Heaven on anyone.  They get to choose.  They have to choose.

Isn’t that the situation of the unsaved person who is presented with the gospel message?  We ask them to decide how they will respond.  And that’s as biblical as anything we ever do.

What the Lord counsels this complacent, self-deluded church to do…

–Buy from Me gold that has been refined in the fire.  Do that and you’ll really be rich!  (The Lord speaks of the true riches, not the tinsel of this world. See Luke 16:11.)

–Buy from Me white garments so you will be clothed and not showing your nakedness any more.

–Anoint your eyes with (real, divine) eye salve so you will not be blind any longer.  This is spiritually speaking, of course.  The idea is simply to bring yourself to the cross and surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ–and do that every day of your life!

Let’s not get hung up on His telling them to “buy” gold or clothing.  We think of Isaiah 55:1 where the Lord calls on Israel to “come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”  The idea is to do whatever is necessary to get it! You’ll recall Jesus’ parables of the pearl of great price and the treasure in the field from Matthew 13.  In both cases, the buyer sold all he had to raise the money to make the purchase.  So, do whatever it takes to get this, Jesus is saying!

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.”  (3:21)  A fascinating promise.  It is true that throughout Revelation Jesus is sometimes seen as sitting on Heaven’s throne.  At times it seems to be the Father on the throne and at other times, the Son.  Just one more reason we believe in the Trinity.  We must not draw the division between Father, Son, and Spirit so strong as to end up with three Gods, which would be a clear violation of Deuteronomy 6:6.

According to Romans 8:37, we are “more than overcomers through Him who loved us.”  Look at the promises the Lord has made to “those who overcome” in the seven letters…

–“I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God’ (2:7).

–They shall not be hurt by the second death (2:11).  See Revelation 21:8 where the second death is the lake of fire, the eventual destination of Satan and his hordes.  (We recall our Lord banishing the wicked to “a place prepared for the devil and his angels” in Matthew 25:41.)

–“I will give some of the hidden manna to eat.  And I will give him a white stone and on the stone a new name written, which no one knows except him who receives it” (2:17).

–He who overcomes and keeps my works until the end, to him will I give power over the nations…and I will give him the morning star (2:26-28).

–Shall be clothed in white garments and I will not blot his name from the Book of Life but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels (3:5).

–I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more.  I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the City of God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of Heaven from God.  And I will write on him My new Name (3:12).

–I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne (3:21).

Whew.  Good stuff.

A final word about doors…

(Note:  Many teachers say Revelation 3:20 should not be used in evangelism because the reference is to a church of saved people, not to the unsaved.  Personally, I think they miss the point.  Whether to backslidden believers or to the unsaved, Jesus brings the blessings of Heaven all the way up to the door of our lives and then He stops.  He will not force Heaven’s blessings on anyone.  But He knocks. He calls to us.  He honors us with the privilege of deciding whether we want Heaven’s blessings in our lives. We get to decide; we have to decide.) 

Note that the door in Revelation 3:20 is closed.  The door to the human heart is frequently shut against Heaven and our Lord.  And now…

Notice that a couple of verses later, in Revelation 4:1 John sees the door to Heaven–and it’s wide open!  “I looked and behold, a door standing open in Heaven!”

The door to Heaven is open, friend.  Heaven is open for business.  The problem is the door to the human heart;  it is closed.  The song says it well…

“The Savior is waiting to enter your heart.  Why don’t you let Him come in?  There’s nothing in this world to keep us apart.  What is your answer to Him?”

In Matthew 23:37, Jesus wept over Jerusalem for closing itself off to Heaven’s blessings.  “How often would I have gathered you together the way a mother hen does its chicks.  But you were unwilling.”  And they would suffer the consequences.

God is not closed and not anti-you.  He loves us so much that He gave His only begotten Son.  The message of Scripture from beginning to end is that God is for us.  “Since God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).  That word is “if,” but the point of it is that “since” God is for us, since the previous 30 verses have all been saying how God the Father is for us, God the Son is for us, and God the Spirit is for us.  Therefore, who can be against us? We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us!

On the cross, while He was being taunted and spat upon by His executioners, our dying Lord prayed, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”  (Luke 23:34)  No wonder we read…

“Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called the children of God!” (I John 3:1)






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