Seven Letters to Seven Churches

Laodicea – Compromise and Apostacy

Revelation 3:14-22

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’”.

Context

Antiochus II Theos, king of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire named the city after His wife Laodice. Laodicea comes from two Geek words Lao Dictaomi, meaning “people’s opinions.” The city was about 160 km east of Ephesus, located on the Royal Road that passed through the city, and connected Ephesus with the Euphrates and Persia in the East. Laodicea shared the Lycus Valley – a tributary of the Meander River – with Colossae and Hierapolis. The churches within each of these three cities seemed to have a close affiliation with each other (Colossians 2:1; 4:13).

Cold refreshing mountain stream waters would flow in aqueducts into Laodicea, and hot water was piped to the city baths from a mountain spa at Pamukkale. The waters, just before leaving the city of Laodicea, were piped into a single pipe, mixing the hot and cold water – the resultant mixture of thermal water with spring water had a water temperature that was lukewarm. The symbolism for Laodicea, is that the heat of the Word of God is made tepid and useless by the cool of man’s wisdom.

An example of the pipes that would have directed both hot and cold water into Laodicea

Laodicea was an extremely wealthy banking centre and had a medical centre which was noted for a healing eye ointment. The city was very pleasure-conscious, with a huge race track and three lavish theatres. The fertile Lycus Valley was ideal for sheep farming and Laodicea was renowned for dyed fabrics.  

The stone ruins of Laodicea

Description of Christ (3:14).

“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’” (Rev. 3:14).

Jesus first reveals Himself to this church as the “Amen,” which means “I believe,” and is usually spoken in response to some truth or promise of God; Jesus is indicating to this apostate church that He is God’s perfect and final revelation (Hebrews 1:1–2). This affirmation was sadly lacking in this church, and was meant to convict and rebuke the people into sounding their “Amens” to the Truth – God’s Word.

As the “faithful and true witness” of God’s Truth, Jesus wanted these indifferent church members to also look at Him in a different light. They held Jesus in low esteem and gave only casual consideration to His Words – this needed to change – Jesus is the Truth, everything He did in the Gospels was the Truth. Jesus never wavered from the Truth, and the Laodiceans needed to reject man’s philosophies and return to the Truth that is witnessed in Jesus.

Jesus uses a name for Himself that appears nowhere else in scripture: “the beginning of God’s creation”. The Gospel of John makes it clear that it was Jesus who did the work of creation: “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made (John 1:3). This church had become so self-centred and proud with all their worldly possessions, that it had forgotten that they owed everything to Jesus, their very existence and their salvation. They had a responsibility to serve their creator, but because of pride, they were serving themselves.

Commendation

There is not one word of commendation for this compromising, self-centred, self-congratulatory, unbelieving church. Jesus hates when men combine their philosophies, their ideologies, their wisdom with the Word of God, so He will not encourage them in any way. This church was so focused on self and their own personal well-being, that they could not see that Jesus was not part of their pathetic, miserable performance.

What Christ Knows and Rebuke (3:15-17).

“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” (Rev. 3:15-16).

Most of the letter is divine denunciation. The Lord’s first rebuke points directly at the foundations of their problem, the Laodiceans had allowed syncretism into their church. God hates the mixture of man’s wisdom with God’s Word. In Leviticus 19:19 the Jews are told not to mix wool and linen in their garments, on the surface this seems a strange request, but God is driving home an important message – do not mix that which is from God (wool), with that which is from man (linen). Right from the beginning in Genesis we see that man’s wisdom is flawed and insufficient. Adam and Eve sowed fig leaves together to make clothes for themselves. Man’s covering of his sin becomes corrupted and fell away. God had to provide the skins of an animal to be an appropriate clothing for them – an innocent party had to die to cover the sins of another. Another example from Genesis, is when Cain offered a sacrifice of vegetables, because he was too proud to go to his brother Able and ask for a lamb to sacrifice. In Leviticus 17:11 and Hebrews 9:22 God makes it abundantly clear “…without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness of sins”. Cain was creating his own offering – which he thought to be superior – but it did not meet the requirement of an innocent party dying for the sins of another.

This explains why Jesus says to the Laodiceans that He wishes they were either hot or cold; hot being the energised Word of God, cold being purely man’s wisdom, such as in the court of the philosophers. Laodicea was a mixture of man’s wisdom with God’s Word, which is totally unpalatable to God. The mixture makes Jesus so nauseous that it causes Him to vomit! People in the Laodicean church were under the deception that they were worshipping God, but they were serving self and losing out on attaining salvation.

The letter to Laodicea needs to be studied alongside the epistle to the Colossians. Paul wrote the letter not just for Colossae, but for the church at Laodicea as well (Col. 4:16). The reason being that the theological error, labelled the “the Colossian heresy,” existed in both churches. Paul does not give exact details of the deception that took hold of the church at Colossae, but we are able to glean enough information from the letter to know that this heresy was syncretistic. This cosmopolitan city with its many different faiths and beliefs had contaminated the Colossian Church. The letter’s aim was to reveal the stupidity of this error, the idiocy of taking their eyes off Jesus and looking at the philosophies of the world. Paul is the spiritual doctor writing a prescription requiring the ill patient to change from a diet of fast food, to a diet that meets the needs of the food pyramid. Paul is telling them to ignore the neon lighted advertising of the false doctrines (deception) that were on every street corner and to go to the market to obtain a nutritious diet, that gives health and longevity to life. Just as you are what you eat, the Colossians had opened themselves up to a diet of false beliefs, a diet of philosophical garbage, and their spiritual health was in a dramatic decline – they were deceived by the world and man’s wisdom.

Jesus’ rebuke directed at the Laodicean church reveals that Paul’s warning to them through the letter to the Colossians had been ignored, and syncretism – man’s wisdom – had contaminated God’s Word and had moulded a new man-made theology.

“For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17).

The deception of syncretism had changed the theology of the Laodicean church to such an extent, that they believed that because they were wealthy they were blessed by God. They were seeing the world through man’s eyes, they did not recognise that God looks at the heart, not the wallet. They were a group of self-serving individuals, who God saw as “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked”.

  • Wretched – pride the original sin. When a person continually places self (greed) above the needs of others, God labels them as wretched.
  • Pitiable – their attitude was contemptable.
  • Poor – spiritually bankrupt!
  • Blind – the irony here is that Laodicea was famous for an eye ointment, yet they are called blind by Jesus. They could not see their own moral bankruptcy.
  • Naked – the Laodiceans gained wealth through the sale of expensive garments, but their pride and greed left them naked and exposed to God’s critical gaze.

The Laodiceans had allowed “the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things (to) come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). Bluntly stated, man’s wisdom chokes God’s Word.

“The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me” (Song of Solomon 5:7).

The Song of Solomon has a link to the parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins. In Chapter 3 (vs 1-4) of Song of Solomon, the bride is helped by the watchmen to find her bridegroom and they reunite the couple. She is depicted as a type of the wise virgin, who has oil for her lamp which allows her to go out in the night to her bridegroom. However, In Chapter 5 (vs 3-8) of the Song of Solomon, the bridegroom is at the door, but when the woman opens the door, he is gone. She calls out for him and there is no answer, she ventures out to look for him, then the watchmen find her, beat her, and remove her veil. This narrative links to the five virgins who do not have oil, and therefore are unable to light their lamps to go out to join the bridal party. When the watchmen find the false bride, they remove her bridal veil and beat her, she is exposed to all in the city as a false bride, she has no oil, she cannot attend the wedding, she is deceitful and need to be punished. The duty of the watchmen of God is to expose the false church – the Laodicean church. Note the Song of Solomon has the bridegroom outside at the door of the house, just as Jesus depicts Himself in the letter to the Laodiceans.

Satan’s plan – Stage 5

Satan’s goal has been achieved; he has redefined the word “church”. A church is no longer a functioning body of believers, who gather to worship the Lord, it is an impressive edifice where the traditions of men are carried out with opulent pomp and ceremony. In other words, the “church” is no longer a church. The “Laodicean church” functions to support the desires of man, fuelled by the philosophies of mankind. The door has been slammed in God’s face, and mankind celebrates his freedom from a constraint to foundational principles, being able to follow arbitrary laws which adapt and change to the whims and wants of mankind. Satan the deceiver is the god of the Laodiceans, he has provided them with all that they have desired, they are independent of all support, they need nothing, including a relationship with God. Their worship is the worship of man’s traditions and philosophies. The seed of the Antichrist has established a home base from which to operate.

Counsel (3:18-20)

“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” (Rev 3:18-20).

The exhortation from Jesus is aimed more at individuals than to the church as a whole. The church was at the brink, almost beyond redemption, filled with those professing to be believers, but who were not – that is why Jesus is outside of the church knocking at the door. There is an expression that states “there are no atheists in foxholes,” meaning that in times of great hardship, when under great stress, people seek God to aid them in their difficulty. Jesus urges the self-satisfied church to pray for a time of testing, a time of hardship which will draw them into a dependency on God, establishing a strong relationship. The apostle Peter explains the need for testing by saying: “so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7). Note that man’s wisdom focuses on the here and now, God’s wisdom points man continually to eternal rewards.

Gold is purified by being heated in a furnace so that all the impurities are burnt away, leaving only pure refined gold – a precious metal.

Many impurities are burned off in the furnace, which produces pure gold

“He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord” (Malachi 3:3).

The testing by fire burns the dross away and leaves pure gold, this then is symbolised in the white (righteous and pure) garments, that they would then be able to clothe themselves and cover their nakedness with. This warning has links to the children’s fable titled The Emperor’s New Clothes. The Emperor was conned into purchasing beautiful, costly clothes that were reputably invisible to fools and incompetents. He then paraded down the streets of the city to show off how regal he looked in his new wardrobe – but he was naked! This was truly the case with the Laodiceans, they believed that they were superior in their display of wealth, yet they were naked. They needed the covering of Christ’s righteousness.

The Laodiceans were very familiar with the healing properties of eye salve since it was produced in their own city. Jesus uses this symbol of healing to tell them that they should anoint their own eyes – the eyes of their spiritually blind hearts – so that they may see. This again points to the Laodiceans as being “Christian” in name only, Jesus said that only those who are born again will see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3).

Jesus is standing at the door of this church, patiently waiting for them to answer His knocking, so that He may enter in and share a meal with them (a Middle Eastern word picture showing a close relationship). However, Jesus is a gentleman, He will not enter where He is not invited, the Laodicean church is required to open the door and invite Him in!

Promise

“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’” (Rev. 3:21-22).

Once more the focus of the promise is on the glory in store for the overcomers in the church. There was a lot to overcome, but the individuals who recognised their worldliness and repented, were promised a throne in heaven. The throne, allows the individual to be seated in the presence of God, representing both privilege – no person was allowed to be seated in the presence of a King – and the throne was not just a seat, it was also a position of responsibility and authority.

The Laodicea Age
Prophetic application: late 1800s onwards

The Laodicean age, is the age of “people’s opinions,” the time in Church history that is dominated by man’s philosophies entering the Church and contaminating God’s word. The period is marked by the arrogance of man, where he has equated his wisdom as being greater than the wisdom of God.

The formation of the liberal Church announces the beginning of a flood of man’s philosophies that flow into the Church, so contaminating God’s Word that it is no longer palatable. The seeds for this error were laid before the letter to the Laodicean church was even written:

Western civilization and its ideologies have been influenced by Greek philosophy and its thinking since its inception back in the 4th and 5th century BC. Greece not only gave the modern Western Civilization its understanding of philosophy, cosmogony and theology, but it also imparted greater influences in the areas of governance, social and other forms of science. The result is that the Western mind is attuned to think and reason with a Greek mindset. The philosophies of the West have grown up out of the foundations laid by the Greek philosophers.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) during the Age of Enlightenment, revolutionized human thinking, stating that “Reason can comprehend anything within the phenomenal realm, or the realm of space and time. Beyond space and time reason is useless. Our knowledge is constrained to mathematics and the science of the natural, empirical world”.  Kant philosophy held that only that which can be directly and indirectly observed or experienced through empirical testing can be seen to be true. The error in Kant’s idea is that God surpasses space and time so, he cannot be held down and exposed to man’s scientific observations. For Kant, Christianity then was what we feel, not what we think and therefore becomes no more than a system of ethics.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), built on Kant’s philosophy, stating that the core of Christian faith is not any historical event such as the resurrection of Jesus, it is instead, “a feeling of one’s absolute dependence on a reality beyond oneself; such awareness could lead a person to imitate Jesus’ good deeds.”

Schleiermacher became “the father of theological liberalism.” Schleiermacher’s new focus also encouraged a process that became known as “higher criticism” – looking at the various sources the Bible’s authors might have used. In the process, many higher critics began to question the Bible’s accuracy. After all, if faith was – as Schleiermacher and Kant implied – a matter for people’s emotions and ethics, couldn’t the Bible be merely a record of ancient people’s feelings about God. The essence of Christianity in liberal theology has become the brotherhood of man rather than salvation through Jesus.

Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834)

Helmut Richard Niebuhr an American theologian described 19th Century liberal theology as “a god without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgement through a Christ without a cross”. The lines between definite belief and unbelief had eroded. For liberalism what mattered most was helping society progress in knowledge and ethics – i.e. European culture.

Some critics became convinced that the Gospel writers didn’t write about the real, historical, flesh and blood Jesus Christ, instead the gospel writers described how the stories of Jesus transformed the early Christians’ lives. According to the critics, Jesus’ miracles were legends, not historical events. Jesus’ death was an example, not a sacrifice. What was seen by the liberals was the Disciples love of Jesus, not Jesus Himself. For the critics all that mattered were Jesus’ teachings about divine love and social reform, the essence of Christianity was “the universal fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, and the infinite worth of the human soul.” The higher critics search for the “real Jesus” became known as the quest for the historical Jesus.

The first Ecumenical assembly was held in Amsterdam in 1948, where the motto “One World, One Church” was adopted. The ecumenical movement is aimed at establishing a one world unified church, ecumenical being derived from the Greek “oikoumene” which means “the whole inhabited world.” There are two major ecumenical organisations, the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the National Council of Churches (NCC). Both have the aim of bringing together all Christian denominations, with the ultimate aim of uniting all world religions.

The Catholic Church seized the opportunity brought about by the desire of Protestant churches to have unity, and at the Second Vatican Council (1962-64) a Decree on Ecumenism was issued by Pope Paul VI, which revealed the goal of the Catholic Church to bring Protestants back into the fold of the “Mother Church”.

The proclamation determined that Protestants were no longer “heretics,” but were in future to be referred to as “separated brethren”. As the Catholic Church sees itself as the true church, their ecumenical activity has the goal of bringing Protestant churches and other religions under the authority of the Pope.

The ecumenical movement symbol for faith and unity – “One World, One Church”.

Other errors spawned by the liberal break from the word of God are:

  • The social gospel is becoming the dominant philosophy of the Methodist church, and the likes of false teaches such as Rick Warren, where the focus is on eradicating poverty, not preaching the gospel message. The erroneous belief is that Jesus will only return to earth once poverty is eradicated. There is a strong socialist, and globalist agenda behind this philosophy.
  • Neo-orthodoxy defines the Word of God as Jesus (John 1:1) and says that the Bible is simply man’s interpretation of the Word’s actions. Thus, the Bible is not inspired by God, and being a human document, various parts of it may not be literally true. In Neo-orthodoxy, revelation depends on the experience (or personal interpretation) of each individual. The Bible only “becomes” the Word of God when God uses its words to point someone to Christ. The details of the Bible are not as important as having a life-changing encounter with Jesus. Truth thus becomes a mystical experience and is not definitively stated in the Bible.
  • Post-modern Christianity is about experience over reason, subjectivity over objectivity, spirituality over religion, images over words, outward over inward. Because experience is valued more highly than reason, truth becomes relative, so the individual determines how they will worship God.
  • The hyper Charismatic and Pentecostal apostate movements that are about “experiencing” the Holy Spirit and seeking after prosperity, such as: The Latter Rain, Third Wave, Toronto “Blessing”, Vineyard – Brownsville “Outpouring”, Word of Faith, New Apostolic Reformation, World Gathering on Indigenous People, Manifest Sons of God, Seeker Friendly, Church Growth, Emerging Church and the many prosperity cults.
  • Prosperity theology, while Godly churches use money to reach people, Prosperity Churches use people to attain money. These Prosperity Churches place faith in faith, and not in God, believing that they are able to manipulate God into providing all their wants and needs provided they show the correct amount of faith. They are the poster Church for the scripture: “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked”.

The Laodicean church is seen in The Parable of the tares and the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30), where the devil sows’ “Tares” – false doctrine – amongst the wheat of God’s Word. The mixing of good and evil will remain until the end of the age, when God will separate the evil from the good. Parallel parables are the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32); The Parable of the Yeast and the Dough (Matthew 13:33).

Summary

Summary TopicLaodicea 3:14-22
Period describedThe End-Time Church, content but sinful, late 1800s onwards
OpeningTo the angel of the church . . . write
Description of ChristAmen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of creation
Commendation
What Christ knowsWorks: neither cold nor hot
RebukeLukewarm, wretched, blind, naked
CounselBuy gold, clothes, and eye ointment
WarningI will spit you out; rebuke and punishment
What you haveError in thinking
PromiseSit on my throne
Other promisesJesus will eat with those who open the door
ClosingListen to what the Spirit says to the churches

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