Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Understanding Laodicea

This church of Laodicea, is often misunderstood. The geographical context is important to understanding the message. The town was named after Laodice, who was the wife of Antiochus II in the 3rd Centruy BC. It was very important city with three major roads allowing for major trade and the movement of the imperial armies. Laodicea was located in a valley with peaks of 8000 feet to the south, and snow-capped mountains to the north. It was approximately ten miles north of Colosse. Also about 5 miles northwest was the city of Hierapolis. (Laodicea and Hierapolis are both mentioned in Colossians 4.13). Each of these towns was known for something significant.

  • Hierapolis (modern Pamukkale) was well known for mineral baths and medical remedies. 
  • Colosse – water flowed out of the side of a mount to a spring with cold water – best water in the region (reportedly, one can still drink from today).
  • Laodicea – widely known for treatments on the eyes.

The passage of Revelation 3.14-22 was addressed to the angel (messenger, likely the pastor) of the church. The letter is from:

  • the Amen (the affirmation of God).
  • the faithful and true witness (always faithful, and ever true).
  • the beginning of Creation (not the first created, but He from whom all else was created (Jn 1.3)).

The Criticism

Verses 15-16 – He states that the works of the church are neither hot or cold. And that he would rather the  church be one or the other.

This has often been construed as Christ wants to know if we are for or against Him. Wouldn't Jesus already know? YES! So, why would Christ prefer that we be cold. Hot makes sense, right? But cold?

Water is important for any society. Think about how many towns are located near a water source. Or think about when a boil order is issued. Well, if it is true today when we can transport all types of resources so easily, how much more in biblical times. So, bear with me for a minute as I set this up for you.

  • Colosse - approx. 10 miles south – high in the mountains, had a good source of cold water
  • Hierapolis - approx. 5 miles NW – in the mountains had a source of mineral baths – hot water

Archeology has uncovered aqueducts leading from warm water springs heavy with mineral deposits to Laodicea. The archeologists have noticed a heavy build up of these mineral deposits on the remains of this aqueduct. So, as the water, filled with mineral deposits, flowed to Laodicea from these hot or warm springs, to Laodicea, it would lose its temperature, but maintain much of the mineral content. Thus, it was not very suitable for drinking – and evidence suggests that Laodicea was well-known for it tepid and revolting water.

So, essentially what Jesus is saying here is: "I wish your water had value. Hierapolis has hot water springs that provide medicinal value to people there (healing). Colosse has cold water that provides refreshment for people there (life-giving). But your water is disgusting. It is lukewarm, with the taste of minerals. Like everyone else who visits here, I just want to spit this out of my mouth."

So, what are the charges against this church? Against these people?

The Charge: They are wrong in their thinking.

The people of Laodicea believe: They are rich  prospering  in need of nothing

Indeed, Laodicea was wealthy. An earthquake in the region in 60-61 AD devastated many towns who had to ask for help from the government, and many still didn't make it. Laodicea refused help and thrived.

But, the reality was they were truly wretched (same word used by Paul in Rom 7.24), in need of pity,  poor, blind, and naked.

  • They thought they were rich, but were poor in God's eyes.
  • They thought they had merit, but really needed God's mercy.

The blind is in reference to the people who would come for the powder which did wonders for people's eyes. It is a part of what made Laodicea so wealthy. But the fact that they could help other people's eyesight be improved or restored, did not mean that they were not  spiritually blind themselves.

The Counsel: They need Jesus.

  • They were rich, but their wealth was tarnished. They needed gold refined by fire. Such gold is pure and is worthy more (higher carat).
  • They needed white garments instead of the soft, glossy, & black wool was bred in the area.
  • They needed eye salve – to open their own eyes to see the truth of their church in their day.
  • They need to repent.

He reproves (rebukes) and disciplines. (The language suggests training a child).

Be zealous (either hot or cold) and repent.

But the beauty of this passage is that it shows that these people (the church) were His children. He did not approve of what they were doing, nor their attitude about it. But He loved them just the same, and was going to discipline them to return them to where they began.

But there is a problem. Jesus is on the outside of the church. They won't let Him in. This passage is often WRONGLY used in evangelism. Yes, He wants into our lives, but from an evangelistic perspective that is dealing with lost people. Here, Jesus is talking to the church. Not just people in a church, but the Church for whom He loved and gave Himself up (Ephesians 5.25) – in other words, the redeemed!

The Call:   He's standing and knocking. Outside.

The church at Laodicea had become self-sufficient. They no longer needed Christ. They could do this  “church-thing” on their own. But Jesus says let me in to dine with you (the meal was a place of bonding).

The Commitment: Whomever conquers, will reign with Him.
Like family, we will be with Jesus for eternity. His disgust and anger has not precluded the Laodicean church from being with Him, but they do need to get their act in order that others may want to be with Him as well.

Regardless of whether one chooses to interpret Revelation from a past, present, or future perspective, the letters to each church can serve as a word of warning to churches today. This is certainly true of the church at Laodicea. Ultimately, how a church operates is dependent on how the people respond to Christ. Do we give Him control of our lives? Only then, does it matter at the level of the church. If we are unwilling to give Him our individual lives, then how can we come together to give Him our lives as a congregation?

DL Moody once said,  “Out of 100 men, one will read the Bible, the other 99 will read the Christian.”

Important to note that this statement was made over 100 years ago when there were far fewer distractions in life. If the statement is true, then we need to do two things:

  1. Somehow increase the number of men reading the Bible.
  2. Become more open ourselves so that others can read us more easily.

Now, more than ever, we should strive to remain a church that has Jesus in it, become members that serve Jesus for it, and become the people of His Kingdom that He wants us to be.

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