Letter to the Church in Laodicea
The 7th and last letter is to the church in Laodicea.
Laodicea was a prominent and wealthy city. It sat on both a river and a highway. It was known for banking, commerce, and wool. When the city was damaged by an earthquake, the wealth citizens rebuilt it without help from Rome.
|the road into town|
They build a stadium, a gymnasium, heated and covered walkways, public baths and massive city gates with towers. The city also had a famous medical school that invented an eye salve which was effective in treating diseases of the eye.
|They built temples to Zeus, Apollos, and the emperors|
The letter begins, as the other letters, with Christ revealing himself with different names. (14) The names for Christ revealed to Laodicea are:
The faithful and true witness; and
the beginning of God’s creation.
The word “Amen” is a Hebrew word, where the “e” is pronounced with a long “a”. The New Testament writers transliterated it, rather than translate it. So does the English Bible. It occurs many times in the Bible. However, this is the only time in the New Testament it is used as a name.
It is also used as a name only one time in the Old Testament. That verse is Isaiah 65:16. Most translations translate it in that verse as “of truth”, referring to the God of Truth.
Isaiah 65:16 in the English Standard Version says:
“So that he who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth, and he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes.”
Most translations use “God of Truth” to translate the Hebrew word “amen”. Jesus, by calling himself the Amen, was applying Isiah 65:16 to himself, that he is God and he is truth. Since he is truth, he can tell this church a hard truth it needs to hear. He is also the “faithful and true witness” as he also said in 1:5.
He is the beginning of God’s creation. It might be that he means a reference to the creation of the world, as described in Genesis 1 and John 1. But it may be a further description of the term “first born of the dead” used also in 1:5., where it also followed the words “faithful witness”. God’s new creation starts with Jesus. He started it and he rules over it.
Sadly, this church is the only one about which Jesus had nothing at all good to say. Although there was no persecution or heresy to put pressure on the church, it had become complacent and worldly. It had been seduced by wealth. Despite receiving letters from Paul, it had not continued to diligently seek the Lord. (Colossians 4:16) They were complacent, saying “I am rich”. (17) Jesus did not see it that way.
In verse 15, Jesus proceeded to his admonition, or correction, of the church at Laodicea. He said they were lukewarm,neither hot nor cold. We might call it tepid. No one likes cold drinks more than us Texans. We drink iced tea in the coldest weather. We also drink hot coffee, even in the hottest weather. But we do not like lukewarm drinks. Neither did Jesus, evidently.
The legend behind this analogy is that Laodicea water came from a long way away, channeled by pipes. By the time it reached the city it was lukewarm and not that tasty. In contrast, nearby Hierapolis had hot springs and Colossae had cold mountain water.
It is so easy to be lukewarm. The fact is, if you come to church regularly and sit there looking pious, people think you are good. You do not have to burn hot to be well thought of in the average church. But that is what Jesus wants. Jesus said, since you are lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth. He would reject them. (16)
The reason this church was lukewarm might have been that they were rich. (17) They did not feel that they needed anything. They were self sufficient in their own thinking. Riches can do that to us. They make us feel we have it made, that we do not need anything from Jesus except heaven when we die.
Jesus disagreed. He counseled them to seek spiritual riches based in holiness. He told them to buy gold refined by fire and white garments. (18) By this he means to seek Christ rather than riches and holiness rather than riches and a place of honor in the pagan community.
He also encouraged them to get salve for their eyes so they could see spiritually. This is a reference to the salve made at the medical school, of which the city was proud. What Jesus was saying is, you have become spiritually blind and complacent because of your material wealth. You need to wake up and discern the need to pursue Christ in holiness.
In verse 19, Jesus reminded them that he reproves and discipline those he loves. This is a threat. He encouraged them to repent and seek the Lord zealously so that they would not be disciplined. Jesus wants zeal, not complacency. It is also a reference to Proverbs 3:11-12, which says “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights. The writer of Hebrews also quoted the proverb in Hebrews 12:5-6 as he discussed struggling against sin.
Verse 20 is one of the most abused verses in scripture. Jesus told them he stood at the door and knocked, and would come into anyone who opened the door to receive him. This verse is often used to preach an evangelistic sermon. But Jesus was not addressing the unbelievers. He addressed the church. His message was for the church to repent and re-enter intimate fellowship with him. He is warning of his return and their ability to participate in the marriage supper of the Lamb.
This may also be a reference to Jesus’ teaching in Luke 12:35-40. There Jesus said to remain dressed for action and keep your lamps burning. He refers to servants who wait for their master to return from a wedding feast. They want to be ready when he knocks on the door to let him in immediately. Christians are to be prepared for the return of Christ so that he will find us faithful, not complacent. We must stay ready every day because we do not know what day he will return. (Luke 12:40)
As with all the churches, Jesus reiterated his promise that all who conquered will rule with him. (22)
This letter seems to me particularly relevant to the American church. By the world’s standards, we are so wealthy. We have many beautiful buildings with beautiful furnishings. We must not lose our zeal for Christ because of the comfort and cost of our surroundings.
All of the letters to the churches remind us of pressures that are exerted upon the church today. There is the interference of the state, paganism, economic pressure, social ostracism and harassment. On the other hand, there is also comfort and prosperity. In the face of these, it is easy for a church to retreat and find peace with the community by compromising its message or cooling its passion for Christ. Christ’s messages to these churches, though, show that compromise and retreat are not acceptable to him. He still requires passionate faith and practice. If not, he is willing to come in discipline.
I do not want him to come to my church in disciple, taking away our lamp or bringing disease and death. I do not want him to spit us out. I only want him to come at his second advent, taking up the church in victory to be with him forever.