Monday, October 28, 2013

Revelation 3:14-22 A Letter from Christ to the Church at Laodicea

Text : Revelation  3: 14 - 22
Title : A  Letter  from Christ  to the Church in Laodicea
Date:  27/10/2013 

The letter to the church at Laodicea is the Lord Jesus Christ’s final letter in a series of 7 letters. He gave this message to John, via an angel (1:1) to be read to the church by her messenger. On a personal note, it is this letter by which the Lord Jesus spoke to my own heart on the 22nd of June 1978, at which time He turned my life around for good by granting me repentance, and forsaking all I was enabled to follow Him from that day.

These 7 letters represent various spiritual states which any local church in the world may experience. We find our own church experience reflected in the messages to these 7 churches. The challenges that the church faces in this world are very common indeed and it is clear that the church of this age has a very real enemy, Satan! [1]

The reason why she survives at all is because she is kept by Christ[2], and yet it is also true to say that no local church survives without abiding or holding on to Christ [3]. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility are not mutually exclusive. Divine sovereignty ensures that the church as such will never cease to exist on earth, while human responsibility will determine whether any particular local church will continue to exist. It is clear from the scriptures that if a local church ceases to be faithful to her Christ, her Head , she may well cease to exist. In the Western world many places of worship have been abandoned over the last 100 years to become museums or shops. 

We find some churches in Revelation 2 &3 that are seemingly beyond reproach (Smyrna, Philadelphia), while other churches have nothing to be commended for (Sardis, Laodicea) or who are in the process of losing their life (Ephesus). The ascended Lord Jesus knows the state of each church and He has an appropriate word of encouragement or warning for each. 
Summarizing the good qualities of the church from these 7 letters would amount to soundness in doctrine, faithfulness in regard to discipline, being faithful in the work of the Lord, spiritual zeal, the possession of love, hope, patience in suffering and persecution for Christ's sake. The Lord Jesus praises such a church. He never fails to promise life and glory to those who are faithful.
Summarizing the disturbing and sinful patterns : spiritual coldness, lack of love for God and men, lack of discipline, tolerance of false teachers and teachings, a lack of zeal in the work of the Lord, lukewarm-ness in the matter of spiritual things . For such churches the Lord Jesus has strong words of rebuke and judgment, together with a call to repentance. 

Laodicea (today near the city of Denizli, in modern Turkey) was so named in about 250 B.C by the Syrian ruler Antiochus II in honor of his wife, Laodice. Later, under Roman rule Laodicea became the seat of local government as well as being a thriving center of commerce. Laodicea was widely known for its black wool and for its medical school which had produced an effective eye-salve (alluded to in v.18). Laodicea was devastated by the same earthquake which had decimated the city of Philadelphia in A.D. 60 , but Laodicea was wealthy enough to finance its own rebuilding. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote: “Laodicea arose from the ruins by the strength of her own resources, and with no help from us.[4] At the time of writing (AD 95) it appears then that Laodicea was a self-confident, self-sufficient and well-endowed city. We do not know how the gospel came to Laodicea. We have no record of Paul visiting this city. Many think that Epaphras, pastor of the church in Colossae, initiated the work there. Colossians 4:12-16 indicates that Paul wrote a letter to the congregation at Laodicea[5], a letter now lost to us. 

V.14 : AN AUTHORITATIVE , RELIABLE JUDGE: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."  The message from Jesus begins with a reminder of the truthfulness of His words. He is the Amen, a Hebrew word which means “truly “ – “so it is!”. Jesus often began His solemn statements in the gospels with these words : “truly, truly, I say to you.” Not only does Jesus speak solemn words of truth, and not only does He know the truth about the church in Colossae, but we are reminded that He is the Truth. John records in his gospel that Jesus had said : “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (Jn. 14:6). 
He sees, knows and understands everything about every church as it actually is and He is able to judge each church which confesses His Name by Himself who is the measure (or standard) of all truth. As the Lord of the church He must tell the truth about herself. He cannot lie, for He is the faithful and true witness , and as such He must tell the church at Laodicea the truth about herself, for in this case she thinks too highly of herself (see v. 17) . 
Christ is also “the beginning of God’s creation”. This does not imply that He Himself was created. Rather, the idea is similar to 1:5, where Christ is said to be “the firstborn from the dead[6], meaning that by His resurrection He has inaugurated or begun the process of the new creation. I remind you that only in Christ will anyone become a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). 

Vv. 15 & 16 A STRONG REALITY CHECK! “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth."  With these words the Lord Jesus Christ begins to tell the truth about this church. He says to them: “you are neither cold nor hot”. The image which Jesus uses here to describe the effect that the spiritual condition of this church has on Him is very graphic. He refers to the effect which the temperature of a drink has on one . One generally prefers to drink something ‘hot’ or something ‘cold’. Nothing is worse than lukewarm coffee or lukewarm tea or lukewarm Coke! Nothing is more refreshing than cold water on a hot day; nothing is better than hot chocolate on a cold evening. Lukewarm drinks are revolting. You want to spit them out! By this illustration the Lord describes the effect that this church has upon Him: “Your spiritual lukewarm-ness makes me sick! I want to vomit you out!” 
What caused the Lord to be so disgusted with this church? Here is the answer: 

V. 17 A MISERABLE SELF -ASSESSMENT : “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Now remember that the city of Laodicea prided herself in her wealth, her independent spirit and in her self-sufficiency . The church in the city seems to have imbibed that same attitude. She went with the flow. She wasn’t a counter cultural and a prophetic voice in the city, and Jesus knows the real truth abouther: “… you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” 
We are amazed how diametrically opposed the view of Christ is to the church’s self -assessment. She says, “We are rich”! Christ says, “you are poor”! She says, “we have prospered – we need nothing”. Christ says, “you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, naked!” All these terms refer, of course, to the spiritual condition of the church. She is the very opposite of the church in Smyrna. Smyrna said, “We are poor!”, but Christ says, “You are rich!”. Though materially poor Christ says that Smyrna was spiritually rich. Laodicea is materially rich, but spiritually poor. That is the truth about her. 

Sadly, it is true to say that an abundance of earthly riches and spiritual poverty often accompany one another. Spiritual poverty and spiritual pride often go together. It is very difficult to remain strong in the faith and grow materially rich at the same time. Wealth is a great tempter! [7] Making money and keeping money requires much time, and the process easily robs us of our peace and joy in the Lord. Sadly, the members of this church did not see this coming when they had grown prosperous. Sadly too, it appears as of the pastor (the messenger of the church) must have been one of them. He sounded no trumpet when the spiritual temperature in the church grew lukewarm. He did not warn them. He left them in their self-satisfied condition. He left his people in their spiritual poverty, blindness and nakedness. What a wake- up call then for the church when this message came to her: "I will spit (lit. vomit) you out of my mouth." 

V.18 A GRACIOUS OFFER! But such harsh words do not come without a gracious offer from the Lord: “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 Lord of the church counsels her to use her material wealth “to buy” (invest) in three important things: (i) gold refined in the fire (ii) white garments and (iii) eye salve. 
Rather unusual remedies” you may say,   until you realize that these are symbolic cures. What the church needs to receive from Christ is (i) spiritual gold that makes truly rich – Christ is our most treasured possession (ii) clothed with His righteousness and not their own merits (iii) spiritual eye salve which will truly deliver the church from her spiritual blindness , and help her to see and interpret life through the perspective of Christ’s word. 
This church needed to get rid of the idea that she was rich in herself, or that she was going ‘to make it’ by her self- righteousness, and she had to get rid of the view that she had a grip on life when in fact she was spiritually blind. 

This church had become so spiritually poor because Christ had moved right out of her center. She needed to confess that Christ is her true treasure, her true righteousness and her true vision! Are you seeing this? Are you hearing this? Many modern churches, so self- sufficient, so self -righteous and so self- confident in their opinions, needs to hear this and examine themselves! Both Laodicea and Sardis thought that they had it, but the truth was that Sardis was dead. Laodicea was lukewarm ! They had deceived themselves! 

V.19 A CALL TO REPENTANCE : To this church which sickens the Lord in her lukewarm-ness the Lord says: ”those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” Notice that God loves this church, and therefore He does not hold back from speaking to her very sternly as a father does to his beloved child. We do not know what means of discipline the Lord applied in this case, but sadly we read often in the Bible that even severe chastising did not bring about repentance (see Revelation 9:20-21; 16:10-11). We should never question God’s willingness to heal and forgive. We should be saddened by man’s hardness of heart! 

V. 20 AN INVITATION: “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.” Jesus is standing at the door of the church in Laodicea, which had become unfaithful to Him. He pleads with them. He reasons with them. He invites them to have fellowship with Him. By their acceptance or non- acceptance they will ultimately show whether this is a church of born again believers. True believers are conquerors. No matter how far they have drifted , the moment they hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, they will repent and come home to the Father’s house . 

V. 21 A PROMISE : " 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."   This promise looks forward to eternity. Those who persevere (conquer) will inherit the kingdom of God – a frequent promise by Christ to His followers ( e.g. John 14:1-7 ; Matt 19:14; 25:34; 26:29 )

V. 22 WHAT IS THE SPIRIT SAYING TO THE CHURCHES? The Holy Spirit warns us : Be careful to not be deceived by material prosperity, intellectual or cultural snobbery. Such a mindset quickly leads to thoughts of self- sufficiency, self- righteousness and thus spiritual blindness. Know that Jesus judges such a church severely. To such a church there is only one advice : Repent and return! Christ is gracious and willing to forgive and receive you. Amen 

[1] Satan : alias  “the  great dragon, … that ancient serpent , who is called the devil  an Satan, the deceiver of the whole world … the accuser  of our brothers…” ( Rev 12: 9-10)
[2] Matthew 16:18 ; Jn 16:33
[3] John 15
[4] Annals (xiv.27)
[5] Laodicea is mentioned five times in the letter to the Colossians: 2:1; 4:13,15,16(2)
[6] See also  Colossians  1:18
[7] James 2:1-7; 4:13-16; 1 Tim  6: 9-10; 6:17-19;

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