Only God Provides Stability
Revelation 3:14 NASB "To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this."
When come to this last church, called the lukewarm church, we have a number of fascinating things to discuss as we go through this particular evaluation report. As we look at this we will come to a greater appreciation of why we should take the spiritual life seriously. There is a strong call in this report for us to look diligently at our own spiritual life and not to become complacent believers.
There are two periods of last day and people get confused about that. There are the last days of God's plan for Israel. Those last days relate primarily to what happens during the period of the Tribulation. Then there is the period of the past days of the church, and that is not a time period that refers to just those final years or generations or decades of the church age but all the church age is described at the latter days because the return of Jesus Christ is imminent. So passages like 2 Timothy 3:1-7 are passages that describe trends that will take place during the church age but are believed to increase by the end of the age.
There Paul writes, NSASB "But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."
We live in a world today where people are more concerned about immediate gratification and emotional stimulation rather than learning about God because that takes time and discipline. The conclusion that Paul has is that they have a form of godliness—a form of spirituality that has all the trappings and verbiage of biblical Christianity—but they deny its power. It is a great summation of the culture in the church of Laodicea.
Laodicea is located about 40 miles to the south east of Philadelphia and approximately 100 miles to the east of Ephesus. Originally the site was occupied by an ancient town known as Diospilus (which means the city of Zeus) and was also called Rhoas. This town was destroyed by the Greek invasions at the time of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. It was later rebuilt by Antiochus II. Its geography is important for the interpretation of the passage. The city was situated on a plateau about 100 feet above the Lycus River valley. It was located on a central east-west highway that went from Ephesus in the west and then heads of through Phrygia and then on into the inland of what is now modern Turkey. From the north was another crossroad that came down from Philadelphia, down to Colosse, and then on down through Pamphylia and on to the Mediterranean coast in the south. Laodicea was located in close proximity to two other cities that have biblical significance, Hierapolis which was six miles to the north and Colosse which was ten miles to the south. These are important because both become the source for Laodicea's water. As the city grew they didn't have enough water, so they had to pipe in hot and cold water from the neighbouring cities. The population of Laodicea, because it was founded by the Syrians under Antiochus and when the Romans conquered this area it was further colonized by Roman citizens, had a mixed population of Romans, Phrygians, Syrians and Jews. In terms of religion there is less evidence here of a strong religious operation. It wasn't as important to the culture, although there were some temples there. There was a temple to an ancient Phrygian deity by the name of Men Karou, and this temple merged with the temple of the Greek god of healing. There was a famous medical school in Laodicea at that time which developed a powder called the Phrygian powder. They would mix this into a salve and it was used for healing problems with the eyes and problems with the ears. This becomes significant because Jesus says in His evaluation of this congregation, "and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see." He is picking up these cultural overtones in order to challenge them to spiritual commitment. The water problem is significant because that forms the background for the Lord's famous critique in vv. 15, 16, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth." Laodicea was famous for this because they piped in the cold water from Colosse and there were hot springs in Hierapolis from where they piped in the hot water, but by the time it got to Laodicea it wasn't hot and it wasn't cold, it was lukewarm and it made people bilious. So the Lord takes that cultural analogy and turns it around and slams them with it.
Three other things we should note that are characteristics that give insight into interpreting this evaluation. The city was incredibly wealthy. Because it couldn't align itself with any of the political movements because without a water supply it couldn't stand a long term siege they had to be like the Swiss and be fairly neutral. Like the Swiss they also developed a significant system of banking, and nearby there were a number of gold deposits and so gold mining was prevalent in the area. So a banking and financial center grew up in Laodicea that was central for the economy of the western part of Asia Minor. It was a major mercantile and trade center. Unfortunately they had a problem as most of this area in the ancient world had with fault lines and the city was almost completely destroyed twice in the first century AD. In AD 17 and again in 61 the city was almost wiped out because of major earthquakes. But unlike Hierapolis and Colosse and Philadelphia and these other cities that relied upon government handouts from the Roman empire they insisted on handling their own problems with their own financial resources. This indicates that they had a tremendous civic pride and self-reliance which is good in some cases but it can be bad when it indicates spiritual characteristics. This is why the Lord said in verse 17, "Because you say, 'I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,' and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked." It made them complacent with regard to their dependence upon the Lord in terms of providing their needs. The area was also noted for its wool production. They had a breed of black sheep that produced a rich glossy wool that was highly prized in the ancient world and very expensive. They produced from this black wool very expensive cloth and carpets that were owned by only the most wealthy in the Roman empire. They were status symbols in the ancient world to possess clothing that was manufactured from this black wool. This provides a little understanding for the statement Jesus makes in verse 18: "I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself." The third thing we should note is the production of this eye salve. The gospel probably came to Laodicea by Epaphrus, according to Colossians 1:7. We don't have aspecific statement there but Epaphrus was sent by Paul to take the gospel into this area. Paul never went there to our knowledge, but he did write an epistle to the church in Colosse and in Colossians 4:16 it appears that he also wrote a letter to the Laodiceans but it wasn't part of Scripture.
The outline: There is the opening address or commission to the church at Laodicea in v. 14. Then there is a reference to the character of the Lord Jesus Christ, referred to as "The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God." These character attributes ascribed to Christ as crucial to understanding what is in this evaluation and why it is said the way it is. There is no commendation in this evaluation, no praise, no spiritual advance; rather there is a condemnation: they are lukewarm, complacent. They have a form of spirituality, there is a lot of action, a lot of involvement, they talk the talk, but they don't walk the walk. There is no real enthusiasm for biblical doctrine and for spiritual application. And there is a correction, they are challenged in verse 19: "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline." That is a fascinating statement because the word He uses there for "love" isn't AGAPAO [a)gapaw], it is PHILEO [filew], and God only has a PHILEO love, a more intimate attractive love, for believers. So this tells us that this church, as messed up as it is, is a church of believers. Then there is a call to listen and to apply, there is a promise to the overcomers, and then a conclusion, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." So this is a crucial challenge to us because we can take that slippery slope into lukewarmness any day. We have to be diligent, focused and vigilant. Are we really positive, or are we just going through the motions? Is it just habit, or do we really have a deep passion to know the Word and to grow spiritually?