The Church at Laodicea

The Letter to the Church at Laodicea

The seventh and final letter went to the church at Laodicea, whose name is generally interpreted to mean “peoples opinions”. However, it seems to me that the interpretation “people judged” might be a bit more appropriate for two reasons.

First, Laodicea is formed from the Greek words laos, which means “people” and dikazo, which is a personal “opinion” resembling a decree or sentence handed down by a judge. Hence “people judged” is an appropriate rendering.

Second, I believe Laodicea is the Millennial church that will be seeded by those who survive Christ’s second coming and the subsequent judgment of man. And as the Millennium church, it would also witness the ‘Great White Throne’ judgment that will take place once the Millennial reign of Jesus is closed. In other words, the name “people judged” would be incredibly appropriate for the church that witnesses both of these events, and in the chronology of the seven churches of the Revelation, that could only be Laodicea.
If you’re wondering how a city could receive such a strange name, the truth is that in the 3rd Century B.C., Antiochus II renamed the city after his wife Laodice. Before that it was known as Rhoas, and it’s oldest known name from around 1000 B.C. was Diospolis, which means ‘City of God’, or ‘City of Zeus’, since Zeus was considered the primary god in the Greek pantheon. As with many ancient cities, the names often changed when they were conquered, and Laodicea was no different.

From the Hebraic perspective, the completion of the justification process (progressive covenants) on our Revelation ‘Tree of Life’ (see Part 5 and 6) takes place with Laodicea, since it leads us to Jesus Christ, the seventh signatory on the divine Ketubah. Jesus will be the groom of the church, and will reign over the world and the church of Laodicea during the 1,000 year reign of Jesus Christ.

THE LETTER:

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  (Revelation 3:14-22)

HISTORY

As mentioned above, this city was original called Diospolis, and later Rhoas, and was only renamed Laodicea in the 3rd century B.C. by Antiochus II.  The city was located about 40 miles inland between two small rivers that fed the larger Lycus River. In its earlier days, Laodicea was not a city of much importance, and suffered greatly during times of warfare. But through the course of time it became a prominent location along a very well known trade route, eventually becoming known as ‘The Gate of Phrygia’.

Under Roman rule Laodicea began to prosper and quickly became a flourishing commercial city that was known for its trade in black wool, among other things. Great trading caravans from the east would come through Laodicea on their way to the larger cities to the west, and all of this commerce made Laodiceans wealthy. The city was heavily influenced by Greek culture, and was known for its science and literature, and well as its medical schools, clothing and textiles, and eye salve.  The city was also noted for its extensive banking system, even minting its own coins.

The prominent Roman philosopher Cicero would often hold court in Laodicea, and many buildings were dedicated to the arts, philosophy, and music. The ruins of the city clearly demonstrate its wealth due to the highly ornate structures and monuments that are strewn about. As with most prominent Greco-Roman cities, this one had a large amphitheatre that seated thousands, and a number of temples and public buildings. Zeus was worshipped throughout this region, as well as Apollo, and both had temples that were dedicated to their names.

Despite their obvious wealth, those in Laodicea had an insurmountable problem. Since this region of Asia Minor was always prone to notable seismic activity, there were many instances over time where the city was destroyed and then rebuilt. During the reign of Nero when one such destruction took place, the people in Laodicea were wealthy enough to rebuild it on their own without assistance from Rome. This was highly unusual for that time, and this type of wealth and self-reliance led them to trust in their own abilities, rather than God. So in a fitting irony, this wealthy city finally had to be abandoned because of its repeated desolations.

NAME OF JESUS

“These are the words of the Amen..”

This is the only place in scripture where ‘Amen’ is used as a proper name, and it’s actually quite fitting. Amen is the word that concludes prayer, and Jesus is the First and the Last that concludes and fulfills all scripture.  The letter to Laodicea also concludes the letters to the churches.  And when considering church phases through history, the Laodicea phase will conclude the church age. Paul even refers to this idea of conclusion and fulfillment in his letter to the Corinthians;

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.”  (2Corinthians 1:20)

“..the faithful and true witness..”

Perhaps the best way to describe this portion of Christ’s name would be to consider Christ’s own words as recorded by Matthew;

“His master replied, ’Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’  (Matthew 25:21)

Using this as our analogy, Jesus was clearly faithful and true when he did God’s will by becoming the Lamb of God that would reconcile man back to his Creator. In the example above, those that are faithful in a FEW things will be put in charge of MANY things.  But in the case of Jesus, He was faithful with ALL things, and therefore God will put him in charge of ALL things. And this will happen at the end of this age, when Jesus returns on the white horse of victory;

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war.” (Revelation 19:11)

“..the ruler of God’s creation.”

Jesus is the “ruler” of God’s creation because Jesus was the vehicle for the Creation. And the scriptures that prophesied his first advent are clear that He was also the “ruler” who would be the “Anointed One”, the Messiah;

“Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.” (Daniel 9:25)

COMMENDATION

Laodicea received no commendation. Without repentance, how sad they will be one day to realize that there was nothing within them that Jesus found worthy of redemption. They would have it all, materially speaking, but they would have nothing spiritually.

On the surface it may seem unlikely that the church that worships under Christ during the millennium would become so distant from Christ and so unworthy. But consider how man has acted in the past when living in the direct presence of God himself;

1) Adam and Eve rebelled in the Garden of Eden, despite the presence of God
2) Israel rebelled against God at Mount Sinai, despite the presence of God
3) Israel refused to enter the promised land, despite the presence of God
4) Solomon committed idolatry, despite the presence of God
5) Kings of Israel and Judah rebelled, despite the presence of God
6) The prophet Jonah refused to do God’s will, despite the presence of God

There are many other examples as well of course, but the point is that man has always rebelled against God, EVEN when God himself was physically and directly present in their lives. And also consider that one day soon, a third of the angels will rebel against God and follow Satan, and those angels are today ALSO in the presence of God.

From that perspective we can see how the church of Laodicea could take God for granted during the Millennial Age. With Jesus running the show and the glorified saints ruling the nations as his kingdom of priests, the Millennial church won’t have a care in the world. With no persecution and with a steady stream of goods coming in from the surrounding nations, it will be easy for them to become arrogant and aloof. And that’s how many falls from grace begin.

ADMONISHMENT

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!”

While most interpret this statement to mean ‘cold’ or ‘hot’ for Jesus, that’s not at all what is in view here. If that was the case, He would no doubt wish they were all ‘hot’. But to the contrary, Jesus appears to suggest that either one would do.  And there is a reason for this that was found in the piping systems of the city of Laodicea, and we’ll get to that in a moment;

“So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

Laodicea was located in such a way that they had to rely entirely on aqueducts for their water. The City of Hierapolis to North had hot springs that were good for bathing, so hot water was piped to Laodicea for this very purpose.  Also, the City of Collasae to the South had cold water from Lycus River, so it also was piped in to Laodicea.  The problem was, by the time the water got there in both instances, it was “neither hot nor cold”. Both systems would deliver putrid and warm water that was full of mineral deposits from the stone piping.  It made the water very difficult to drink, and this is the imagery that Christ is building upon with his statement.

When Jesus states that He will “spit” them out of his mouth, the Greek word actually says ‘vomit’ (‘emesai’) instead. In other words, Jesus was telling Laodicea that their spiritual condition was so poor that they made him want to vomit. Those are powerful words, but it doesn‘t end there. In addition to this, the Greek word for “about to” (‘mello’) actually infers an absolute result, and not just a possibility. So Jesus was confirming that they were going to be rejected. This is why no commendation was received by this church, and this is another reason why the meaning of their name is “people judged.”

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing’.”

Just as those in Laodicea told Rome that they were rich and did not need assistance in rebuilding their devastated city, so they apparently told God that they did not need a thing. And that was their biggest problem. They had become so absorbed by the things of this world that they had forgotten God completely. While they were materially wealthy, they were spiritually poor.

“But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

The word ‘wretched’ is a little used word in the New Testament, but where it is used, such as in Romans 7:24, it refers to those that are in the bondage of sin. And Matthew 21:41 speaks of the ‘wretches’ being brought to a ‘wretched end’ in the Parable of the Tenants.  So this is a particularly damning word, given its prior usage.

The word “pitiful“ seem rather self-explanatory, since the ultimate destination of those in Laodicea would suggest that they were a pitiful lot in God’s eyes.

The word “poor” refers to a poorness of spirit, which is the lack of the Holy Spirit.  Just as Christ told those in Smyrna that they were “rich” spiritually despite their material poverty, he is telling Laodicea that they are “poor” despite their material wealth. I suppose there is a lesson in there for all of us who crave all the conveniences of our day; it’s probably better for us to be poor.

The word “blind” was used by Christ to describe the Pharisees, which is an unpleasant comparison.  The Pharisees, like Laodicea, were the wealthy caste of that day that did not want anything, even God, to interfere with their way of live. However, since they completely lacked the Holy Spirit, they lacked the mechanism that would open their eyes to the truth.

The word “naked” refers to their lack of spiritual clothing, which is only obtained when we are redeemed by God. This was specifically mentioned by Paul, who said we needed to clothe ourselves in our ‘heavenly dwelling’;

“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.” (2Corinthians 5:1-3)

EXHORTATION

“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich..”

In the refining process, all metals are subjected to fire and intense heat in order to separate the dross and yield a pure product, and this is the analogy that Christ used to describe the trials that we often endure in order to remove the dross from our lives. In this instance the metal is gold, which is symbolic for the royalty that the saints will experience in heaven and on earth.

“..and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness..”

If we use the symbolism established in the admonishment of this church, Christ is counseling them to accept Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit so that they could be redeemed and clothed in their heavenly dwelling. And the “white clothes” made of fine linen represent the purity of the saints, the bride of Christ. When coupled with the sentence just above, we know this purity for Laodicea will only be achieved through the refining process.

“..and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”

One of the products sold in Laodicea was eye salve, so Christ uses this imagery to tell this church that they were spiritually blind, and unable to see the truth, just as the Pharisees were unable to see.

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.”

Going through trials is often very taxing on us both spiritually and physically, but in some way God intends it for our benefit, and our growth. Paul described this process in this passage in Hebrews;

“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.” (Hebrews 12:7-8)

“So be earnest, and repent.”

The desire behind each of Christ’s admonishments to the churches is that they repent of their ways so that their sins could be wiped out, and that they could be saved. Peter made this same case to Israel in the following passage from Acts;

“But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.” (Acts 3:18-21)

PROMISE

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.”

If you remember the betrothal process from last summer’s classes, the first step in the betrothal process was the prospective groom going to the prospective bride’s house with his father, and knocking on the door. The next part of the betrothal was up to the bride;

“If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”

Opening the door to the prospective groom was the equivalent of accepting his proposal of marriage, however the terms of the marriage were always negotiated while the parties dined together.

“To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne..”

To complete the betrothal analogy, once the groom and bride were betrothed, she would share in his entire inheritance, which in the case of Jesus will include the right to sit with him on his throne. This is the promise that Jesus has made to his saints, that they will receive all that has been allotted to him, and will share in his rule over the earth (Revelation 2:26-27). But only those who ‘overcome’ this world by covenanting with Jesus will inherit these promises.

“..just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

Jesus overcame the world through his sinless life and sacrificial death, and he now sits with God at his right hand;

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

JESUS AND LAODICEA:

Jesus was the groom on the divine Ketubah, and as such he is the 7th signatory and the patriarch of Laodicea. The following items identify him in this role;

1) Laodicea was wealthy and in need of nothing, just as the Millennium church will be wealthy and in need of nothing. The prophets made it quite clear that during the Millennium the nations will bring their wealth to Israel, and will serve Israel for a thousand years.

2) those in Laodicea that overcome will sit on Christ’s throne, just as Christ sat on his Father’s throne.

CHURCH PHASE:

While most commentaries presume that the church today is within the Laodicean phase, I would suggest we are still in the Philadelphia phase instead. The reason is simple enough, since the church is coming under increasing assault around the world, having ‘little strength’ in the face of its opposition. This is particularly true in the East, but it’s quickly becoming a reality in the West as well.

In addition, only a small minority of churches today are rich like Laodicea was. It is a fact that most churches around the world are not only NOT rich, but they ARE in need of much. Only in the West have we had the luxury of saying that we are not in need, but even this is changing since the financial collapse of the world economy. All around the world the church is laboring financially, which hardly sounds like a church that says “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” 

CONCLUSION:

“Don’t take God for granted when things are going well”