Today we come to the last of the seven messages which the Lord Jesus sent to these seven churches. And all seven messages are meant, not only for these seven churches, but they’re for every church in every generation and all of us need to pay attention to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. We need to consider whether the things the Lord is saying to these churches apply to our church. And today we come to the Lord’s message to the church in Laodicea.
And, as in the other messages, so this one also begins with the Lord describing himself to his readers. And so, listen again to how he describes himself in verse 14:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.
We usually use the word ‘Amen’ to end our prayers. And in that context, it means:
So be it. That’s it. That’s what we want.
But the word ‘amen’ can also be used to mean ‘certainly’ or ‘firmly’ or ‘truly’. In the gospels, the Lord Jesus says:
Truly, truly, I say to you….
He’s in fact saying:
Amen, amen, I say to you….
‘Amen’ can mean ‘truly’ or ‘certainly’. And here in Revelation 3, when you put the word ‘Amen’ next to the words ‘the faithful and true witness’, the Lord is conveying to us the idea that his witness is faithful and true and certain and firm. He’s a totally reliable witness. While he was on the earth, his witness to his Father in heaven — the things he said about him and the things he said for him — his witness to his Father was totally reliable. And as he writes to these different churches, and bears witness to all that he has seen and knows about them, we ought to remember that his witness about them, his message about them, is certain and faithful and true. We can trust everything he says and we ought to understand that everything he says about these churches is true.
But the Lord also calls himself ‘the ruler of God’s creation.’ Now the NIV translators are trying to interpret the meaning of the Lord’s words, because what the Lord actually said is that he is the beginning, or the source, of God’s creation. And he’s the source of God’s creation because all things were made through him. How did John put it at the beginning of his gospel?
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
Since all things were made through him, he rules over all things. Think of a child with his parents; the child owes his life to his parents, because they’re the ones who brought him into this world and who continue to look after him; and the parents therefore have the right to rule over that child. And the Lord Jesus rules over all of creation, because all of creation was created through him. So, the NIV translators are not wrong to translate the Lord’s words in the way that have done so.
However, it’s possible that when the Lord refers to God’s creation, he’s referring to God’s new creation. And the Lord Jesus is the beginning — or the source — of God’s new creation, because his resurrection from the dead was the beginning of the new creation; it was the beginning of the age to come. And whoever is united with Christ through faith becomes part of that new creation too, because we are raised with him through faith and we begin a new life here on earth. Paul puts it this way:
If anyone is in Christ, new creation! The old has gone, the new has come!
And, of course, we’re waiting for the day when the Lord will come again, because when he comes again, the former things will have passed away for good; and he will make everything new.
So, the Lord Jesus is the beginning of the new creation, the age to come. And, in that case, the way the Lord describes himself here is of significance for what he’s about to say, because he’s warning the church in Laodicea that they need to repent. And he then promises that those who overcome will be able to sit with him on his throne. And he means they’ll be able to sit with him on this throne in the new heavens and the new earth. So, the one who is the Beginning and Source of God’s new creation is promising his people that they will rule with him in the new creation when he comes again.
Verses 15 and 16
In verse 15, the faithful and true witness testifies that he knows their deeds, that they are neither cold nor hot. And the Lord adds:
I wish you were either one or the other!
Now, we often assume that the Lord is complaining about their lack of spiritual fervour. Instead of being on fire for the Lord, they’re only half-hearted, or luke-warm, in their devotion. And that might make sense if the Lord hadn’t said that he would prefer them to be either hot or cold. Would he really prefer someone to be spiritually cold — that is, totally uncommitted to him — instead of luke-warm in their devotion? It makes no sense. So, what does the Lord mean here? Well, the historians tell us that in many ways, Laodicea was the perfect place to live, because it was a wealthy city, with many amenities and facilities. However, there was one thing it lacked: it didn’t have its own water supply. It didn’t have any water. So, water had to be piped in from nearby Hierapolis which was famous for its hot springs. The only problem was that by the time the hot water from Hierapolis reached Laodicea, it was no longer hot; instead it was warm. So, the water in Laodicea was neither hot — like the hot springs in Hierapolis which were known to have a medicinal effect — nor cool — like the water in nearby Colossae, which was useful for cooling you down on a hot, summer day. It was only lukewarm and not much use for anything and not very pleasant to drink. And, given that background, it seems the Lord was complaining that just as the water in Laodicea wasn’t much good for anything because it was neither hot nor cold, so the church in Laodicea wasn’t good for anything either.
And look at the warning in verse 16: Because you’re lukewarm — neither hot nor cold and not much use for anything — I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
Verses 17 and 18
So, what was wrong with this church? Why were they good for nothing? Well, the Lord goes on in verse 17 to identify the problem. And the problem lay in what they thought about themselves. Look at verse 17:
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’
The city of Laodicea was a wealthy city. The historians tell us about an earthquake in the area in AD60 which damaged many of the buildings in Laodicea and in Philadelphia. Whereas Philadelphia needed to seek disaster relief from the Roman Emperor to help pay for the reconstruction, the citizens of Laodicea declined such help, because they could manage on their own. So, it was a wealthy and independent city. And it seems the members of the church were wealthy also, because according to the Lord Jesus they said they were rich and had acquired wealth and had all that they needed.
But then the Lord reveals their true condition. He said to them:
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
That’s what you’re really like: you may be walking around with fancy clothes; and you might live in a fancy house; and you might have all that you need; but the truth is, in God’s sight, you’re very, very poor.
And so, since they’re wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked, the Lord says to his people:
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in fire, so that you can become rich.
In other words, come to me for true riches; all the spiritual blessings which the Lord pours out on his people. And:
I counsel you to buy from me … white clothes to wear to cover your shameful nakedness.
Laodicea was famous for producing clothes made of a black cloth. Here the Lord is inviting his people to come to him for white clothes, which means he will cover them with the righteousness they need to cover their sin and guilt. And:
I counsel you to buy from me … salve to put on our eyes, so that you can see.
Laodicea was also famous for having a medical school and for producing a powder which was used as a salve for eyes. And here the Lord is inviting his people to come to him to take away their spiritual blindness and to give them true spiritual discernment and understanding.
One of the commentators suggests that the only way the members of this church could have become prosperous was by joining the trade guilds in the city where all the business deals were done. The only problem was that the trade guilds were bound up with pagan worship. And so, the only way to join a guild was by denying or by playing down your devotion to the Lord Jesus. And so, perhaps that’s what had happened to this church; and instead of remaining faithful to the Lord, and instead of standing up for what they believe, the members of this church denied the faith in order to become rich. But what good is a church in a pagan society if its members have denied what they believe?
By sending this message to the church in Laodicea, and by saying these things to them, the Lord is saying to us and to every church that we need to be careful lest we’re ever tempted to deny the faith, or to play down what believe, in order to get along in the world.
Verses 19 and 20
These are harsh things the Lord is saying to the church in Laodicea, aren’t they? The Lord wants to spit them out! You’re wretched and you’re pitiful and you’re poor! You’re blind and you’re naked! These are harsh things. And so, the Lord adds verse 19 to show his readers that the reason he’s rebuking them and disciplining them is because he loves them; and because he loves them, and wants what is best for them, he will warn them when they’re going astray; and he will call them back to the narrow path that leads to everlasting life. If he hated them, or was indifferent towards them, it wouldn’t matter to him if they went astray. But because he loves them, he needs to warn them and to show them that they need to be earnest and repent. In other words, they need to repent and turn back from the way they’re heading, because they’re wandering away from the true faith. And they need to be earnest, or zealous, for the Lord, seeking to live lives that are pleasing to him.
And then we have verse 20 which is often misunderstood. It’s often used in evangelistic contexts to suggest that the Lord is standing at the door of an unbeliever’s heart, wanting to come in. But, of course, the Lord is addressing the members of his church. And so, we’re to picture him, standing at the door of the church, knocking, and wanting to come inside and to enjoy fellowship with his people. And perhaps the background to this is the Lord’s parable in Luke 12 of the master who returned from a wedding; and the servants needed to be ready and waiting in order to open the door when he knocked. And if the servants were ready, then the master would be pleased with them and would invite the servants to sit and to eat while he serves them. Well, the members of the church in Laodicea need to be ready for the Lord. And the way to be ready is to repent of their sins and their unfaithfulness and to be earnest and zealous about serving him and doing his will. And that’s not only true for the church in Laodicea, but it’s true for every church, because we always need to be ready for the Lord.
Verses 21 and 22
And so, we come to verses 21 and 22 and the Lord’s promise to those who overcome the temptation to deny the faith in order to get along in the world. And what does he promise them? A place beside him on this throne in the world to come. And since that is his promise to us, then he who has an ear ought to pay attention to what the Spirit is saying to the churches in every generation. What are we looking for? To become rich and to acquire wealth in this life? But what good is it to get along in this world if we lose out on life in the world to come? So, what are we looking for? Well, if we’re looking for life in the world to come, then we must trust in the Lord in this life and remain faithful to him always, just as he remained faithful to his Father in heaven; and after he suffered and died, he ascended to heaven and sat down at his Father’s side in glory. That’s what we’re to look forward to; that’s what we’re to seek; and so, we ought to trust in the Lord and remain faithful to him always.