Jesus's Letter to Laodicea
This morning I taught the Sunday School lesson for our adults at my church, New Hope Baptist Church. It was on the final of the seven letters Jesus dictated to John in Revelation 2-3. This final letter contained the most dire warning of all to this apostate church. Below are the notes I used to teach the lesson and you can go to the podcast section of the blog or to Apple Podcasts on your phone to listen in on our class. Thanks for stopping by to check it out!
The Letter to the Church at Laodicea
And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, “These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God…” Revelation 3:14
As in all of the epistles of the New Testament, the writer identifies himself at the beginning. In each one of Jesus’ letters to the churches, He uses a description of Himself from John’s vision in chapter one to emphasize some part of His character. Here, He says He is the Amen. We think of “amen” as a word to tag onto the end of a prayer, but in the Hebrew from which the word originates it means so much more. It’s a word that means “it is most certainly true – there is no chance of failure, God will bring it about absolutely.” The word is made of three letters, aleph, mem, nun. The pictograph of the word can be interpreted several ways.
Aleph – head of the household, strength, father
Mem – blood, water, chaos
Nun – sprouting seed, life, son, fish
The Father on the chaotic waters brought forth life.
The Father, through the blood/living water has given us life through the Son.
This is the story of the Bible, the story of redemption. How proper that the picture of our creation and our new creation is in the very word “amen,” and that the word means “truly, certainly, without a doubt. God truly and certainly without any doubt is our Creator and is the Giver of eternal life through the blood of His Son! Amen!
Interestingly, if you leave off the all important “aleph” at the beginning of the word, you get the word “manna,” which means “what is it?” Without God, there is only confusion in this creation. The culture is trying to live without a Creator and without the new life He gives in Jesus, and it just leads to a chaotic and confused life. Interestingly, the Jews didn’t accept or recognize that Jesus was their Messiah just as they didn’t understand the bread from Heaven in the Old Testament.
Jesus also says He is the beginning, or the source of the creation. We know from John’s gospel that Jesus was there at the creation and that nothing was made without Him. So the Amen and the Creator is talking to the people of Laodicea and He is also talking to us – the end times church.
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would that thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing;” and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Revelation 3:15-19
The word Laodicea means rule of the people. Remember in the book of Judges how the people did what was right in their own eyes. This was the reason that the period of the Judges was one of the lowest points in Israelite history. Think about churches today. Are there churches who are ruling themselves instead of allowing Jesus to be the Head?
George Barna was speaking recently and shared these statistics on a podcast about new polling of those who are members and attend evangelical churches in America:
52% do not believe there is any absolute moral truth.
Over half do not believe the Bible is inerrant, trustworthy, or personally relevant to their life.
61% do not read the Bible daily.
4 out of 10 believe that Jesus sinned.
62% say that it doesn’t matter who you worship as long as you have faith of some kind.
A minority define success as consistent obedience to God
50% believe you can be good enough to earn your own salvation without Jesus.
4 out of 10 believe the Bible doesn’t really teach that abortion is wrong.
4 out of 10 say human life is not sacred.
4 out of 10 say that socialism is a better form of government than capitalism.
The data from Pentecostal, mainline Protestants, and Catholics was worse than this! Could it be that we are living in the days of the Laodicean church?
Laodicea was a wealthy banking center with a medical school famous for its eye salve. They were wealthy in every way except that they didn’t have a local water supply. As a result, they were forced to pipe it in through aqueducts from hot springs in Denizli, 6 miles away. While traveling, it became tepid, which could be why Jesus chose to describe them as lukewarm like their water. Have you ever taken a sip of coffee that wasn’t hot any more? Or have you taken a sip of Coke that was room temperature? It’s not a very pleasant experience! The fact that Jesus uses this figure of speech to describe how He feels about them is disturbing. He says that He is going to vomit them out of His mouth. It’s difficult to believe that these people are truly part of the family of faith. In the Bible, vomit is a negative thing, and the scripture points out that only dogs return to their vomit! If these people don’t heed the warning to repent, they are in real danger!
Notice that this is one of two churches that receive NO commendation. They have no idea that they are doing so poorly as a church, however.
How they see themselves How Jesus sees them
Increased with goods Miserable
Have need of nothing Poor
This is the most terrifying of the seven letters. Even in the letter to Sardis, Jesus doesn’t have a commendation at the beginning, but He says that there are some that haven’t soiled their garments. In this letter, He doesn’t single out any group that is doing well. He doesn’t tell them to remember their first works, or to hold on to what they have as He does in the other letters. Once someone becomes a Christian, they are a new creation, they are no longer wretched and miserable because God has saved them, yet these people are still described as being wretched and miserable. A Christian is a co-heir with Christ. We cannot be poor because we will inherit all things and live with God eternally. We once were blind, but the only way to become a Christian is to see the truth of the Gospel and respond to it. The reason Jesus heals blind people is to give us a picture of what He does for us spiritually at our conversion. There are many New Testament passages concerning out new “garments” that come with salvation. In Ephesians 4:22-24 it says,
To put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
When reading Paul’s letters we see commands about how we should live as a Christian. In Ephesians 4 for example, Paul gives a long list of things we should avoid and other things we should do instead now that we are Christians:
Speak lies Tell the truth
Steal Work with your hands
Let corrupt talk come from your mouth Speak words that give grace
Be angry or slander Be kind to one another
The fact that we are told over and over in Scripture how we should be living means that even as a Christian we have the choice to be obedient to God’s commands. We are even told not to grieve or quench the Spirit, so the ability to disobey and disappoint God is still present in our lives after we are saved. Because of this, many commentators believe that these people in Laodicea are genuine Christians, but they are not living as Christians should. After all, Jesus addresses them as the “Church” at Laodicea. However, the harsh warnings in this letter cause some commentators to question whether these people are saved at all. Perhaps they are only members of a church. Look at the beliefs of those in the Barna poll above. Can you truly be a Christian if you believe that Jesus was a sinner and you can be good enough to get to heaven without the Cross? Are you a Christian if you believe that the Bible isn’t the truth from God and it’s not really relevant to your life? Can you be a Christian if you think people are just fine and will go to Heaven regardless of who they worship? Clearly, there are people in churches, and even whole congregations who teach completely wrong theology and are apostate. Perhaps this church is not made up of one or the other, but both kinds of people. Those who are false converts and those who are backslidden Christians. Either way, I don’t want to be counted in their number!
I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne. He that hath and ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
The people in Laodicea were wealthy, but Jesus makes it clear that material wealth means nothing in the kingdom of God. The wealth of this world will be destroyed one day. We need to be rich toward God. One of my first grade memory verses is from 1 Timothy 6. We only recite verse 18, but the whole passage is relevant to us in this study:
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19
Wealth and luxury like we experience here in America does not always produce people of strength and character. Many times it produces flabby, lazy, and self-sufficient Christians who believe we really don’t need God. Jesus counseled them to buy from Him gold tried in the fire. Gold tried in the fire is character developed by affliction. Affliction is not a bad thing when God is using it to make us stronger and develop our character. Many Christians have been influenced by the prosperity gospel teachers who say God only wants us to be healthy and wealthy. The Puritans understood that God uses difficulty for our good. Here is a prayer from a Puritan book of prayers:
“Heavenly Father, if I should suffer need, and go unclothed, and be in poverty, make my heart prize Your love, know it, be constrained by it, though I be denied all blessings. It is Your mercy to afflict and try me with wants, for by these trials I see my sins, and desire severance from them. Let me willingly accept misery, sorrows, temptations, if I can thereby feel sin as the greatest evil, and be delivered from it with gratitude to You, acknowledging this as the highest testimony of Your love.” Puritan Prayer from the Valley of Vision
Since Jesus has already told them they were naked, He counsels them to buy white robes to clothe themselves. White raiment in Scripture is symbolic of righteous acts. In Revelation 19:7-8 we read:
Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
Since there were no commendation for this church, it is apparent that they are lacking good deeds and righteousness. Not only that, but they were blind and in need of eyesalve from Jesus. Their famous salve was doing nothing for their spiritual eyesight. They were still spiritually blind! Their wealth and blindness was causing them to be complacent. They had no zeal for the Lord and His work. He told them to wake up and be zealous and repent of their apathy and sin.
Verse 20 is one of the most quoted verses in revivals, but it is one of the saddest verses in the Bible. Jesus is an outsider in His own church! The organized church has shut Him out so He is making an appeal to have fellowship with individuals. Jesus desires our fellowship, but He is a gentleman and will not force His way into our hearts and homes. He pleads with anyone who will open the door of their heart to Him and allow Him to come in and have fellowship with them. This is one of the verses that lead me to believe that the people in this church are false Christians. True Christians already have Jesus living inside their hearts.
Remember that the name of this church means “rule of the people.” The promise to the overcomers who will heed the warnings and allow Jesus into their hearts is that they will reign with Him. They are ruling and reigning their lives without Him, but if they submit to Christ and allow Him to rule over them, they will become co-heirs and rule with Him in His Millennial Kingdom. The utopia that the world is looking for and evil men are trying to establish will never come to pass under man’s rulership. It is only when Jesus returns and sets up His perfect Kingdom without Satan and his deceptions that we will enjoy true utopia and happiness. Pray for those in this apostate church, that they will heed the warnings so they can be with us at His Coming!