The Seven Churches of Asia: The Church of Laodicea

laodiceaTo the angel of the church inLaodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore 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 will dine with him, and he with Me. 21 He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame 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.’”

Laodicea was situated between Colossae and Hirapolis at a crossroad of a very busy highway. It was well known for its banking institution which at that time was bar none the best and most admired in Asia Minor. It was such a wealthy city that the citizens of that city used their own funds to rebuild the city after a devastating earthquake which meant refusing funds from other neighbouring cities.  It also had a very well-known medical college which produced an eye-salve that was exported throughout the Roman world and was famous for its textile trade especially woolen tunics.

The church itself should be noted as being the only church among the seven to which the Lord Jesus has nothing positive to say.

The title given to Christ in this portion of the letter is quite fascinating. He is referred to as “The Amen, the faithful witness and the beginning of the creation of God”. This should probably be taken, as Beale explains, as a development of the text in 1:5. The phrase “firstborn from the dead” relates to His resurrection and so should “the beginning of the creation of God” be taken . Christ is the beginning (arche) in the sense of a creator or the source of the creation but not in the sense of every creature but what was brought by His resurrection mainly “the new creation” (2 Cor. 5:15-17)

The conclusion that the title “beginning of the creation of God” in 3:14 is an interpretative development of “firstborn of the dead” from 1:5 is confirmed by the observation that αρχη (beginning) and πρωτοτοχος (firstborn) are generally related in meaning especially and especially are used together almost synonymously in Col. 1:18b (αρχη, πρωτότοχος εχ των νεχρων)of Christ’s sovereign position in the new age , as a result of the resurrection.[i]

The seriousness of this title would have caught their attention. Christ is speaking as One who is faithful which they would have realized they weren’t. Also, being the “beginning of the creation of God” would have demonstrated the power of the One who was speaking whom brought forth the worlds by the word of His power.

Vs.15-16

There have been many interpretations of the words “hot or cold” with the vast majority interpreting these terms as people who are very fervent in their witness for Christ (hot) while others who are without a witness for Christ. (cold). The problem with this interpretation is that it seems the Lord Jesus believed that “hot” and “cold” were something positive in His sight. It would seem strange for the Lord Jesus to encourage anyone to be “cold” in their witness especially in light of the rebuke to the Ephesians.  The city of Laodicea was situated in between the hot spring waters of Hierapolis and the ice cold waters of Colossae. Laodicea was renowned for its poor drinking water and even through much effort it failed to solve its H20 problem. When someone drank Laodicea’s water, especially when accustomed to pure cold drinking water, would generally spew out the warm water. The unbelievers of the city were receiving neither spiritual healing nor life because the church was not actively fulfilling its role of witnessing to the gospel of Christ. [ii]

V.17

The downfall of the church in Laodicea was that it thought everything was o.k. They were either oblivious to their spiritual situation or perhaps felt that due to their growth or economic stability that they had found favour in God’s eyes. The church thought it was “rich” and had need of nothing.  There seems to be a parallel with Hosea 12:8 “And Ephraim said, “Surely I have become rich, I have found wealth for myself; In all my labors they will find in me No iniquity, which would be sin.” In these texts in Hosea, Israel often speaks of receiving their wealth as a result of the faithfulness of their idols. (see Hosea 2:5-8; ch. 11 & 13) which is most likely what we see here in Laodicea. The very contrast to their self-deception was true as the Lord Jesus explains that truly they were “wretched and miserable and poor and blink and naked”. They seemed fine from the outside but within they were nothing more than a poor blind beggar.

V.18-19

The Lord Jesus makes a fascinating statement in v.18 in exhorting the assembly to “”buy from me hold refined by fire so that you may become rich. The idea of “refined gold” was nothing new and probably familiar to these believers as it meant a life that had removed the obstacle of a sin. (see Job 23:10; Prov. 27:21; Mal. 3:2-3) Through the Lord Jesus came the removal of this obstacle and the life being purified. They are to clothe themselves in white garments (3:4-5) that are unstained by sin and the eye salve would heal their spiritual eyes so that they could see (John 9:39-41). After such a strong rebuke and command by the Lord, it would be easy for the Laodiceans to feel that this was the wrath of God towards them however the Lord explains, in v.19, that those whom He loves, He disciplines. His purpose in this rebuke is to show them that He still cares for them and commands them to repent (change their minds about their sinful actions) and get back to being effective, faithful witnesses for Christ.

V.20

To further His words of love towards the Laodiceans, the Lord Jesus offers a revewal of fellowship with Him. The Lord Jesus states that “if” anyone opens the door, He will come in and share a meal with them. The sharing of a meal at a man’s table was a true expression of the intimate fellowship they had for all in attendance. These words have been preached upon by many as a means of inviting lost sinners to the cross of Christ and salvation. It should be noted that this is not the proper contextual interpretation and it is my personal view that using this text as an invitation for the lost to come to Christ should be avoided. Some seem to feel that using texts out of their context is justifiable for the preaching of the gospel even though there are many other texts that are actual verses used to invite the sinner to faith.

V.21

The overcomers in Laodicea are promised that if they overcome they will rule with Christ on His throne in the same manner than Christ overcame and ruled. This is a similar promise the Lord Jesus had promised His disciples in Luke 22:29-30


[i] Beale P. 298

[ii] IBID P.303

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