The church in Laodicea is the last of The Seven. And, it is to this church that Y’shua (Jesus’ Hebrew name) reserves the most damning critique. Over the course of this series on the churches mentioned in the Revelation, we have seen how they not only represent an actual church that existed in the 1st century, but also, that each church is representative of a period of church history, as well as a type of a church found throughout that history, and of a certain kind of believer who could be found in these types of church.
If Laodicea represents a period of church history, it is the one we are in now – the final chapter before the return of the King. Scholars argue as to when this period of time started, but I think we are safe to assume that it began with the rise of the Pentecostal movement of the early 1900s.
If this church points us to a type of church which is found throughout history, then it points to a godless church, where money rules.
And the kind of believer that you could most associate with Laodicea, is one for whom spiritual blindness and worldly sight plainly seen.
We will look more closely at these concepts as we go through.
If anything, then the church at Laodicea is probably the most discussed of The Seven; the most preached about; the most used as an example of what not to become; and yet, as I survey the landscape of churches in these dark days, I cannot help but think, that despite all the teachings, all the warnings, that Laodicea lives on in many modern churches.
Laodicea, because of its cultural history, provides preachers with some wonderful allegorical tools. Y’shua uses their local industry as metaphors, and today’s preachers are happy to follow suit. It is true that Laodicea was renowned as being a centre for banking. It is also true that there was no fresh water supply locally, and so water was piped over five miles from a hot spring which, by the time it arrived at the city, it was no longer hot, but lukewarm. It is also true that there was significant industry in the textiles business, as well as in the production of eye salve. Y’shua used these metaphors to speak directly into that church.
So, this was a city made rich because of its banking activities. So rich, in fact, that when the city was destroyed by an earthquake during the rule of the Roman Empire, the city refused the offer of financial help from Rome, proud of the fact that it rebuilt the entire city from its own coffers.
That last paragraph tells us a great deal about the city – that their pride ruled over everything else. This arrogance is clearly reflected in the church itself. Y’shua’s attack upon them is severe. Let’s take a look.
Again, Y’shua is addressing an actual angel at the start of the letter. How do we know it was an actual angel? Because the statement that He makes to validate His identity could only be truly know by a being from the spirit realm.
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.” [Revelation 3:14 NIV]
Whilst it is relatively easy, as men, to accept His validation of being the Amen, and the faithful and true witness, as well as the ruler of all creation, only an angel would have recognised these as being just some of the names given by God to the risen Christ, because He is worthy to receive them.
I should say, at this point, that many commentators say that this is an unsaved church. They point to verse 20 for proof of this – that He stands outside the door and knocks. However, I am inclined to believe that it wasn’t always an unsaved church. This is for two reasons. Firstly, why would Y’shua include them at all in His letters if they were not once a church? It might be that, like Ephesus, they had started well. In fact, they all probably started well, as all new churches do. But, secondly, we know that this letter is addressed to an angel. I am certain that God only provides an angel to oversee a church, if there are committed believers there.
Like with the other six churches, Y’shua continues by explaining that He sees everything. Nothing is hidden from him.
“I know your deeds, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you from my mouth.” [Verses 15-16]
This is pretty damning. Of course, Y’shua uses a metaphor that they would have understood. Sometimes He speaks in parables. Sometimes He speaks candidly. Here, He uses a mixture of local metaphor and candour. The water that was piped into Laodicea was neither hot enough to bathe in, nor cold enough to drink. Imagine you have a cup of tea or coffee that you have left too long to stand, but you still think it might be hot enough to drink. what is your instance reaction when you discover that it is not hot enough?
Some translations use the phrase ‘I will vomit you from my mouth‘. You could paraphrase it with ‘you make me sick‘. What this shows us is Y’shua is not the lovely Jesus meek, and mild, but is actually the head of the church and anyone who is not living up to the standards which He commands will be spat out. If there was ever a retort for the ‘once-saved-always-saved’ brigade, then this is it.
Imagine how it would have been to hear this letter read out to the entire congregation. This would have cut to the quick. But, wait. The rebuke is far from over.
“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth, and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” [Verse 17]
Now we start to see the real problem. The sign outside the building might have said church, but inside arrogance reigned over God. The confidence that wealth brings to anyone makes them self-sufficient. If you are self-sufficient, it makes true reliance upon God, as your provider, very difficult indeed. Look at the warnings Y’shua gave throughout His earthly ministry to the rich and wealthy. He made it clear just how difficult it would be if you rely upon earthly treasures. Entrance to the Kingdom of heaven can only be obtained through humility and reliance upon God.
This church were wealthy, and they knew it. In fact, Y’shua knew that they had clearly been bragging about it. By the world’s measure, wealth does indeed promote the idea that need will not be a consideration. But here, Y’shua is dealing entirely with their spiritual condition. He is telling all of them (and all of us) that the things this world holds as important are not. What is important is our spiritual state. Nothing else matters. In order to highlight just what their state truly is (for they are deceived by using wealth as a measure of these things), Y’shua describes their spiritual condition. It is easy for us to rely entirely upon the senses we are born with. I think that Y’shua is making it very clear that the things of the flesh are not important; only the spirit matters.
To be called wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked is a sad indictment. You won’t find Y’shua giving a more damning assessment of anyone’s spiritual condition, anywhere else in the New Testament. Y’shua describes our unsaved state precisely: we are spiritually wretched, that is miserable, without joy, before we encountered Y’shua; we are to be in a sorry, or pitiful, spiritual state, before the knowledge of His salvation is revealed to us; we are spiritually poor – in Matthew 5 Y’shua tells us that those who realise that they are spiritually poor have already been given the Kingdom of God; we are spiritually blind before He opens our eyes – we have no real notion of the unseen world around us until He reveals it to us; and we are naked spiritually. I want to pause for a moment on this one.
At the moment we come into this world, we are naked. The same is true when we are spiritually reborn. Our nakedness is covered by the righteousness of Y’shua Himself. This can be a difficult concept to grasp but I recommend that you read a very descriptive account of what we might look like in the unseen, spiritual realm. Read Zechariah chapter 3. You will find that Joshua, the high priest, is before the throne of God dressed in filthy rags, with Satan at his side accusing him. God takes away his sin and clothes him in new white robes. Take your time to meditate on that passage. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you a true picture of yourself in the spirit realm to help you understand it all properly.
As we return to the text of the letter, we see Y’shua has a solution for this arrogant, self-reliant church:
“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so that you can cover your nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see.” [Verse 18]
Now, here is where the real cost of true discipleship comes into play. Because they are so blinded by their own wealth and worldly securities, they are in a dreadful state spiritually. Y’shua gives them free advice. He tells them to buy from Him gold refined in the fire. Of course, He is not talking of real gold, but of the spiritual kind that only comes the other side of passing through the fires of tribulation and hardship. The cost is absolute and unconditional surrender to Him. No money could ever buy what Y’shua has, only self-sacrifice. And it is this self-sacrifice that allows us to received the new clothes to cover our shame and the salve for our eyes to make us see spiritually.
Y’shua then continues to encourage acceptance of His discipline:
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” [Verses 19-20]
The theme that God disciplines those whom He loves is shown throughout the Bible. Our role, as believers, is to accept and not resist that discipline, regardless of what form it might take. This will always lead us to repentance. The repentance means our ears can be opened to His voice. If we refuse to repent our hearts grow hard and we cannot hear His voice. If you hear His voice today, do not harden your heart – was the plea that God made to His people, Isra’el, throughout their history.
Whilst it is easy to say that because Y’shua stands outside the church, that none inside are true believers, it is equally as clear that He loves them regardless. The lifeline He is throwing them will truly save their lives. There must have come a time, back in the first century, when that same lifeline was withdrawn. Seek the Lord, while He may be found is a fitting warning for all of us. One day, it will be too late.
“To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” [Verses 21-22]
Again, as with the other six, this letter finishes with a promise for all overcomers. A disciple of Y’shua is an overcomer. The messages for the overcomers we will deal with in greater depth in a separate paper. But know this, they are addressed to all in the churches (plural) who have ears to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying.
So that deals with the 1st century church. But how does it apply today, to today’s church? Well, it is two-fold really. This final church of church history is more worldly than any other church in any other period. The church doesn’t truly rely upon God for anything. It trusts in itself to raise the funds it requires to keep going. It has developed all sorts of rituals and devices for keeping it exactly where it wants to be. But, this applies today, in particular, to a certain type of church. You will be able to think of at least one when you stop to consider. You might even find yourself as part of one such as this.
How do you tell if your church is laodicean in nature? Well, just take stock for a moment. Is it all about the money? How much is in the bank, in the reserves? Are the leadership encouraging people to live according to the gospel, by living by faith in God? Are the leadership practicing that which they preach? Is their reliance upon the money that comes in through the collection plate, or are they failing to seek God for every penny? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, then your church might find themselves needing to buy gold from Y’shua, at a very high price.
Money and wealth makes us comfortable and sleepy. They make us deaf to God’s Holy Spirit. They make us trust in the things of this world. I speak entirely from personal experience and am not judging anyone, but the same God, the one who provided for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is my God. And, He still provides in exactly the same way that he has always done. However, unless you put yourself in a position that requires you to trust in God for provision, how do you expect to every grow your faith?
Many of today’s churches run the risk of being left out of the kingdom. Read the warnings throughout the gospels about this. The Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25 is a good place to start. Y’shua isn’t the head of a church where anything goes. He is the head of the church where obedience is required over all other things.
Today, in complete defiance of what the Bible says, churches are run as businesses, on a worldly business model. They call themselves charities but do little or no charitable work. They claim a monopoly of knowing God’s will, but ignore any scripture that doesn’t suit their business plan. If the leadership of a church employs and pays the pastor, how then is the pastor free to speak freely? The church has a vested financial interest in what he teaches.
Pastors should take the example of many others from days past, such as George Muller, who told the church in Devon who employed him not to pay him a wage. Instead, he had a box installed at the back of the church building where people could donate to his living expenses, if they felt led to do so. He never went without.
Take a look at your own life too. Whom do you really rely upon? God or the money in your bank? Are you prepared to accept that everything you have came from God to start with? If He prompted you to do so, are your prepared to give it all away or sell everything and give it to the poor? No? Well, let’s not beat around the bush, because that is exactly and literally what Y’shua taught to anyone who would follow Him.
Don’t take Y’shua to be a soft touch with whom anything goes. We will all be held to account for our lives. Buying from him gold refined in the fire and robes of righteousness come at a great personal expense. But, you will reap the benefits of all that He has promised us.
Laodicea is a reality check for all of us. But, if you are convicted when you take that check, then act upon it. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that He isn’t talking to you. He is. He is talking to every single believer in this final church age. Every single one of us.