Scripture: Revelation 3:14-22

To the Church in Laodicea

14 “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.
15 “‘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. 18 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. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” (ESV)

Introduction material:
The church of Laodicea was one of the seven churches that John writes to in Asia Minor in the book of Revelation. Laodicea was situated in the Phygia’s Lycus Valley in modern day Turkey. It is 16km from Colosse (Col. 2:1; 4:15-16) and 9.5km from Hierapolis (Col. 4:13).

The city was known as a wealthy banking centre during John’s day. Laodicea, along with other cities in Asia Minor, was destroyed by an earthquake around 60AD. When offered monetary relief from Rome they refused, adamant on remaining self-sufficient.

Laodicea was a city of great resources (3:17). The city was proud of their self-sufficiency, which is addressed as an issue for the Christians who also shared in this pride (3:17-18). The result was that they had become complacent, leading to a loss of what was really important.

John, the writer of Revelation, uses irony as a literary device throughout the letter to Laodicea to drive home the point that the church were shutting Jesus out by being self-sufficient. Here, physical wealth led to their spiritual poverty.

Discussion:
One thing that the city of Laodicea lacked, was its own water supply. They relied on water from nearby Hierapolis and Colossae, making them vulnerable to besiegers. Ancient sources tell of the water being full of sediment. Excavations in the area reveal their terra-cotta pipes to be full of lime deposits, which were visible at nearby Hierapolis. The view of the limestone waterfall of Hierapolis from Laodicea would have been a constant reminder to the city of their poor water supply

Read:  15 “‘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.

When the churches of Revelation would have read this verse about ‘lukewarm’ they would have most likely understood the reference to the water supply at Laodicea. ‘Hot’ water, which is found at Hierapolis was useful for relieving ailments and bathing (ie. The Hierapolis hot springs). ‘Cold’ water, which was found at Colossae, was useful for drinking. By the time the water from Hierapolis and Colossae made its way to Laodicea it was neither hot nor cold. It was not useful and would have tasted bitter.
A contemporary scholar, Craig Keener, contextualises this verse to read: ‘I (Jesus) want water that will refresh me, but you remind me instead of the water you always complain about. You make me want to puke’.  Being neither hot nor cold could have indicated that they were not useful for anything. They would have given Jesus a bitter taste.

Read: 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. 18 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.

The Laodiceans were known for their clothes and carpets made from black wool. The city also boasted a medical school and some believe even a famous eye doctor resided in the city.

Read:  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.

If we are really honest with ourselves, it is hard when we read such a harsh rebuke in the Bible. The truth is that we all need to be rebuked and corrected at times. Jesus’ purpose for his rebuke to the church of Laodicea is pure love (3:19). Jesus was not rejecting his people, but rather inviting them to repent and welcoming them to the messianic banquet.

Read:  22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

When it comes to the question of application of the letters of Revelation to modern day churches Keener says, ‘If the shoe fits’. As 21st Century Christians we can read these ancient letters and they can still have application to us today. The warnings and encouragements set out in this letter were addressed to specific churches, but John encourages all ‘who has an ear’ to listen and to heed.

References:
Keener, Craig. Revelation (TNAC: Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2000).
Morris, L. Revelation (TNTC: Inter-Varsity Press: Grand Rapids, 1996).
Witherington III, Ben. Revelation (TNCBC: Cambridge University Press: NY, 2003).

1 Craig Keener, Revelation, pg. 158.

Questions:
1. When you read ‘lukewarm’, what are some of the interpretations you have encountered around this verse?
2. To say that the church was ‘lukewarm’, what would Jesus have been saying?
3. Can we apply this letter to our own churches and if so, in what way?
4. In what ways do we as Christians absorb the behaviors and attitudes of the world around us without taking them into consideration?
5. If we are to take seriously the words written in any of the letters to the churches of Revelation, what things would need to shift in our lives?


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