Revelation Part 11
Finding out there’s something worse than garden variety sin
One of the most fascinating features of this letter of Jesus to the Church at Laodicea is finding out there is something worse for the Christian, worse for the Church, than what we might call garden variety sin – the things we most often focus upon.
There is something so problematic, so dire, that Jesus uses truly shocking language to in order to grab their attention and ours – to what isn’t most obvious.
We read nothing of their having lost the sense of God’s great love for them as the Ephesians did.
There wasn’t the sexual immorality and compromise with idolatry of Pergamum or the systematized false teaching of Thyatira.
They weren’t professing to be alive when dead like Sardis.
Outwardly they looked and sounded great!
But these alone were in such a state that they nauseated Him.
Jesus calls it being lukewarm. What that really means, and how to deal with it, is the subject of Jesus’ last letter to the churches.
And it’s a doozy.
I. (14) Reference to the Ch. 1 Vision / “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.”
There are 2 parts to Jesus’ introduction here.
1. Jesus announces Himself here as The AMEN, The FAITHFUL and TRUE WITNESS:
In doing so, He is drawing from 2 sources. First, as with all the letters, from Rev. 1 (5) “and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness”. But the idea of being “the amen” is drawn from an old testament concept. It comes from Isa. 65 where God identifies Himself as the God of truth – the word “truth” there being the word AMEN.
The idea is that what God says or promises, He guarantees. He is the divine “So be it!” If He has said it, it is so.
2. The BEGINNING of God’s Creation – arche – First cause, and/or Ruler
This doesn’t imply Jesus was the first thing God created – but is most likely a reference to something the Laodicean Church was already quite familiar with as a title for Jesus in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Colossae was only 10 miles away. The Church at Colossae was begun by Paul’s companion Epaphras, and he is most likely responsible for 1st carrying the Gospel to Laodicea as well.
In fact, the 2 churches were so closely tied together that Paul can write in the early 60’s – 30 years or so before this letter of Jesus, in: Colossians 4:16 “And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.”
There we read of Jesus that: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Col. 1:15–17
In other words, He is pointing to His own pre-eminence. Something which is key as to how we understand the rest of this letter.
So, Jesus wants them to hear Him as a faithful witness to what He sees, as one whose vision is clear and admits of no error or correction, and who is also the ultimate authority with whom they have to do.
It is from that platform He then gives His…
II. (15-17) Declaration of Insight. / “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
As you can imagine, this must have been quite a startling statement to them. It is certainly shocking to our ears all these years later.
Here is the faithful and true witness, the unerring final Word of God in all of His majestic pre-eminence telling one of His churches that they make Him sick!
And what is it that He cites as being so sickening to Him? They are neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm. And just what that means will take a bit of unpacking.
Many take this statement as though Jesus is referring to their spiritual temperature so to speak, and that He would rather they be either outright cold toward Him or hot toward Him instead of lukewarm.
But why would Jesus say He would rather they be either cold or hot, if the reference here is to spiritual life or vitality toward Him?
He can’t be saying I’d rather you have no affection for me or spiritual fervor at all – than to have at least some.
That doesn’t really make much sense.
In fact, that is not what He is referring to.
What happens here is that Jesus draws from their topography to make His point.
Due to its Location in the Lycus valley, Laodicea had no useful water source of its own.
They had gone to great lengths to pipe water in from a long distance, but the water was so full of calcium carbonate, and being piped in through stone pipes in the hot sun the water would be nauseating to drink. It was both lukewarm and too mineral laden.
Ancient sources from the day tell us that to drink it would make one throw up.
It worked fine for watering crops, but was utterly useless for drinking. Laodicea was famous in the ancient world for this sad condition.
But as you can see on the map, Laodicea was just 10 miles away from Colossae. And in contrast to Laodicea, Colossae was known for having the some of the best drinking water in the entire region.
At the same time they were only 6 miles away from Hierapolis – a city known for its hot springs – natural hot mineral springs where people suffering from all kinds of ailments would go to what people used to call “Take the cure”. i.e. go soak in the hot springs for their health.
The idea then is that Colossae had cold water which could refresh and nourish, and Hierapolis had hot springs which people could soak in for their health – but Laodicea had nothing to offer by way of blessing to others! They were spiritually useless to others.
Oh, they could brag about their wealth – and indeed, they were the wealthiest city in the entire region – even richer than Sardis. They were so rich, that when the city was leveled in the earthquake of 60-61 C.E., they boasted about not needing any imperial money to rebuild. They put plaques up saying this building was built and donated by so-and-so, and this one by another – etc. They were excessively self-reliant. And it appears they took their outward well-being as a sign that all was well with themselves spiritually too.
In fact, there were 3 streams accounting for their fabulous wealth:1. As a famous banking center. The famous Roman politician/Orator Cicero noted that when traveling he did his money exchanges here. 2. They had the corner on the market for a particularly desirable black wool. It was exceedingly durable, soft and glossy and it was sought for all over. And 3., as if these weren’t enough, some ingenious past denizen had invented a formula for an eye salve that was remarkable for relieving all kinds of eye infections.
These 3 things together made them the wealthiest city in the greater area – and made them very arrogant – but above all, and this is key – a self-sufficient group.
So, it appears from Jesus’ words that the Church had taken on this very same attitude. The Church was filled with rich or at least comfortable people, steeped in the trades that made them wealthy and they thought themselves quite complete!
But that was just the problem you see. Self-sufficient and self-satisfied, they in fact had nothing of any real spiritual significance to offer to anyone else. Outward blessings are no sure indication of one’s spiritual condition.
They couldn’t cool the thirst of the one seeking after eternal life, nor minister to the soul ailments of those suffering the ill effects of sin.
They were useless in ministering to others, even though they were so “blessed” in their own eyes.
So, Jesus says –You consider yourselves Rich, Prosperous, and in need nothing – when in fact – answering to their 3 streams of wealth: you are Wretched and Pitiable – which He defines as: Poor, Naked and Blind.
Jesus wasn’t saying I wish you were either spiritually cold toward me or spiritually hot toward me – rather, I wish you had something to offer those who are in spiritual need – of either something cool and refreshing or hot and healing!
But for all you have – you have nothing to add to anyone else of true spiritual value. You are lukewarm and quite frankly useless to anyone else in the things that really matter – nauseating. And I am going to spit you out of my mouth.
So, what does this look like? Something like this…
They were professing Christians, they weren’t godless. As we said above, they do not appear to have been bound up in all the other sins noted in the other letters.
They would say “Oh, I need Jesus to save me from my sins.”
“I need Jesus to avoid the judgment of God and Hell.”
“I need Jesus when I’m REALLY in trouble – but I don’t really need HIM day to day for anything.”
I need some of what He can do for me, but I don’t really need – HIM, for Himself.
He is merely the cosmic panic button.
But beyond that, we’ve got financial wealth and stability, we’re clothed in the black woolen fashion of the day, and we’ve got the eye-salve the world clamors after. So Jesus, thank you for being our Savior, but beyond that, we simply don’t need you. Things are good. If there’s an emergency, we’ll let you know. But until then, we’re quite content to just be nice, basic Christians.
And as a result – they were in fact bankrupt from God’s point of view, naked in their self-reliance and worst of all – blind to their own condition.
Why is this state of affairs so bad? Because it hearkens back to the Garden of Eden.
There, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and were banished from the Garden and most importantly, the Tree of Life.
Now in Salvation, we’ve been brought back into the Garden, the flaming sword of judgment has been removed and we’re invited to feast on the Tree of Life again, and instead of eating that precious, life-giving fruit – which is Christ Himself – for day-to-day sustenance, we’re content with everything else He has provided — but the most needful and precious of all!
We see that more clearly in the Call Jesus issues.
III. (18-21) The Call. / I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.
We can verify our assessment based upon the call to repentance Jesus gives them.
Just like in Jeopardy on TV, sometimes you arrive at the real question, once you hear the answer. So in this text. Jesus’ answer to their problem is what brings out the real nature of the problem itself in greater clarity.
So, He says first of their wealth – I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire.
Having material wealth in this world means nothing to me. And the gold you really need, the true wealth, must be had from me and me alone. There is a wealth that functions on an entirely different standard. Wealth as God counts wealth, not as the world does. And you’ve not been seeking it.
And the black wool you are all so proud of – it covers nothing. It looks good to the human eye, but what does it cover in terms of how the soul is dressed – if we can use that term.
We don’t need outward appearance, we need to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Which Jesus appeals to here again as something which must be obtained from Him. How does He see us? How do we look in His eyes?
And then too – the need to see their real condition and need as from Him, and not through their own eyes. Oh, how good we can look to ourselves, especially when we compare ourselves to others. But as James notes: James 1:23-24 “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.”
POOR, NAKED and BLIND! In His faithful and true assessment – that is what they were. Self-reliant and self-sufficient, they had nothing, and hence did nothing of any significance for anyone else.
What a stinging rebuke.
But then – Oh how sweet and good and wonderful He is here. How His grace comes pouring through on the heels of this blistering review.
For in His very next breath He tells them 3 additional things.
- 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
I’m not just venting my spleen and leaving you in the dust. I come to you and I open these things up to you BECAUSE I STILL LOVE YOU!
Yes, you make me sick, but no, I have not cast you off! Come and be restored. Repent, turn from this broken way. If I didn’t love you and cherish you, I would let you go. But I DO love you and I DO cherish you and so I am unwilling to leave you in this miserable condition.
What does that look like? What is the very core of everything He has been driving at and where this all needs to go? It is summed up in the remedy He specifies, which also answers the question of how they got here in the first place:
- 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
You have left off needing Me – for Me. You do not come to me to be with me and to fellowship with me and to know me and delight in me. You just see me as the salvation machine – and I want to come in and fellowship with you.
This is key to their being so useless and so to their restoration.
At the beginning of the service today, we had the portion read from Matthew where Jesus feeds the 5K with the few loaves and fishes.
And in it, He sets forth a most important principle for us – it is in the latter part of Matt. 14:19 “Then [Jesus)] broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.”
Why were the Laodiceans so lukewarm and unable to bless anyone else? Because in leaving off fellowship with Christ, they had stopped receiving anything at His hand, and thus had nothing to give to anyone else.
And beloved this is where all of this comes home for you and me as well.
If we too have become self-sufficient, so that we need Jesus as our salvation agent but have precious little time to spend having Him break the bread of His word to us in time alone with Him, reading His Word – hearing Him speak to us in it, and in prayer – responding back and in meditation on it – then it is no wonder if we have nothing of any spiritual good to contribute to anyone else.
This is lukewarmness. And there is no other cure than to be in regular communion with Christ through His Word and Prayer. No other remedy.
The call isn’t to become sage theologians or Bible scholars. It isn’t to give up everything and go on the mission field. It isn’t to make great sacrifices and do BIG works in Christ’s name – it is a call to have regular fellowship alone with Him. So simple! So doable! And so neglected.
This is the Believer’s lifeblood. And lack of it is why our conversations with people never go beyond mere life-stuff, and get down to feeding each other the good things we’ve received from Him.
But look at what else He says: – I AM knocking. I AM at the door. And I WILL come in to all who open to me.
This is not a verse about people coming to saving faith in Christ, it is about Christians being brought out of spiritually ineffective lukewarmness, into spiritual vitality that ministers to others.
And if you are blind to the need to be of use in the spiritual life of others, of having something of Christ’s to give to someone else – then listen to Him – He is knocking at your door today – calling to you, and promising that if you will open to Him, He will come in, and the two of you will dine together. What a precious and intimate picture that is! And oh, how He calls to you right now to open and meet with Him.
Believers we still need the Gospel! And here it is on display, isn’t it? When we are at our worst, the mercy and grace of God in Jesus Christ shows itself in its most profound wonder.
It was at the Cross that mankind and even religion was at its very worst: Crucifying the very Son of God rather than giving Him His due and coming to Him for reconciliation to God.
So here: Here is the Church and Christians at their worst. But here is Christ Jesus in the wonder of His love and mercy and grace saying Here I am – I haven’t forsaken you – open the door to Me again.
And for those who do he then says thirdly –
- 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.
The one who hears, and opens, and restores fellowship and intimacy with me, will not only NOT be spit out, but they will enjoy the highest privileges which can be afforded any creature in all of creation – to rule and reign WITH HIM IN HIS OWN THRONE!
An unimaginable position and privilege.
All tied to a life of fellowship with Him here, that spills over into our ability to bless others, with the blessings He joyfully and willingly pours out upon us when we take the time to be with Him, hear His voice in His word, and respond to that voice in prayer. THAT is where we get broken bread – from His hand – and then we have something to give to others.
Seek communion, fellowship, personally drawing to Him; that we might have something for our own souls, and something to give someone else.
Establish it as a habit to never read your Bible without asking yourself, have I come away with something for myself, which is then something I can pass on to another?
IV. (22) The Reminder. / Oh beloved – He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.