Pastor Scott Andrews | July 24, 2022
We arrive today at the seventh and final letter to the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. Now, as we’ve seen, both the book of Revelation and even these letters have been viewed in a variety of ways. Some have seen these letters as depicting seven distinct periods in the church age – which extends from the resurrection of Christ to the return of Christ.
Now, as I mention the return of Christ, there are many positions regarding the nature and timing of His return. Your thoughts about the return of Christ actually affect the way you view this book. That Jesus is coming back is non-negotiable for the Christian – His return is clearly taught in Scripture.
But what does it look like? For example, are there two comings – a secret one for the church called the rapture followed by the very public second coming for all to see? If so, what is the timing of the first coming, again called the rapture? Further, is there a seven-year tribulation period just prior to the second coming of Christ? And depending on the timing of the rapture, will Christians – that is, the church – be here at all, or at the beginning of the tribulation, or until the middle of the tribulation, or all the way through to the tribulation – which some call the 70th Week of Daniel or the Time of Jacob’s Trouble.
Those various positions are called pretribulation rapture, mid-tribulation rapture, or post-tribulation rapture. Not only that, are the events described in Revelation – specifically from chapters 6-19 – did they happen in the past, are they happening now, or will they happen in the future? Then we will get to Revelation 20 and find this thing called the Millennial Kingdom. What and when is that? And when is the return of Christ as it relates to the millennium? Is there a millennium at all? Those positions can be summed in the following:
Premillennialism is this: Jesus returns and sets up a period of rule on the earth – usually a thousand years – before the end comes and we enter the eternal state described in Revelation 21 and 22.
Postmillennialism is Jesus returns after the church grows and establishes a period of righteous rule on the earth – a sort of golden age when things get better and better – preparing the way for His return.
Amillennialism is there is no definitive physical rule of Christ on earth – Revelation 20 is to be taken figuratively and describes His present rule – that is, the next thing to come on the prophetic calendar is the return of Christ and the eternal state.
Yes, those are all general descriptions, and yes there are lots of variations. Now, can I suggest that almost all of those can be biblically defined and defended, and there are godly, biblical, faithful people who hold those positions. Last week, I attempted to reveal my personal beliefs so you’d know the position from which I will be teaching the rest of the book of Revelation. That is – I believe Revelation 6-19 is largely future, that there is a seven-year tribulation coming, that Jesus comes back to rapture the church at the end of the tribulation – meaning, I hold a post-tribulation view and the church will go through it, and that we will then enter a thousand-year reign of Christ on earth – that is, I am premillennial.
Now, as I suggested last week, many in the evangelical church are pretribulational. That is, many believe Jesus will return to rapture the church before the tribulation. I get that – I grew up that way. Again, as I suggested, there are many godly people who hold the position and can biblically defend it. There are people in the room who hold varying positions – and I’m alright with that.
All that to say this: my attempts at humor last week were not intended to demean a position, but to add some levity to what many hold tightly, and maybe too strongly. All of these are biblical, orthodox positions. Again, to be in the pale of orthodoxy, you must believe in the second coming. How that unfolds – that’s a different story. So, as we make our way through this book, you may find yourself disagreeing, somewhat agreeing, largely agreeing, or fully agreeing. That is okay. I’m not infallible – and some of you say, we know.
The timing of the rapture – which by the way, I believe in – I Thessalonians 4 says we will be caught up – that’s where the word rapture comes from – caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Our primary difference may be in the timing of the rapture. Last week, I was simply trying to recognize those differences with some levity. If you received that as ill-timed or demeaning, I sincerely apologize. I’ll teach my position – and you can agree or disagree. But, as I said, if I believe there is good, solid biblical reasoning for the church going through the tribulation, I want to prepare us for it. Even my wife said last week, I hope you’re wrong. Me too. Except, if God has us here during that time, it is for a purpose, and His purposes are always most glorifying to Him and best for us.
So, back to the letters. Many of the Reformers saw them as describing periods in the church age. Of course, we’ve seen these were seven real churches with real challenges when John wrote Revelation – when Jesus dictated the letters to these churches.
Others have noted a downward spiral through these seven churches – perhaps, depicting the church age, or even the lifecycle of a church. The downward spiral does seem to be evident, except that two churches, numbers 2 and 6 – Smyrna and Philadelphia – were great churches. Jesus had nothing corrective to say to them. But if you exclude those bright spots, you have these:
- Ephesus – while orthodox and faithfully working and persevering, had lost their first love.
- Pergamum – while holding fast to Jesus’ name, was living where Satan’s throne was, and had among them those who held the teachings of the Nicolaitans, which we suppose was evidenced in idolatry and immorality.
- Next was Thyatira which went a step further. They not only had those engaged in idolatry and immorality, remember Jezebel and her kin, but the rest of the church tolerated them.
- Which brought us to Sardis. Jesus said some startling things to them – they had a name they were alive, but they were dead. Wake up, Jesus said, and strengthen the things that remain. The good news was there did seem to be some good things remaining, but even those were about to die.
- Which brings us to this seventh letter, Laodicea – and as we’ll see today, Jesus had nothing good to say about them. There didn’t seem to be anything remaining that could be strengthened. Most of you know about lukewarm Laodicea and being spit out of Jesus’ mouth.
Now, as we review those five churches, we see the following corrective actions to be taken:
- For Ephesus, Jesus encouraged them to remember, repent and return to the works they did at the first, motivated by love.
- Pergamum, similarly, was to repent – stop ignoring sin in the camp.
- Thyatira was to hold fast to truth, that is, what little remained, until Jesus returned.
- Sardis was to wake up, remember what they had received, keep it, and repent.
- We’ll find Laodicea was to be zealous and repent.
You’ll notice that common to most of these churches was repentance. Repentance is a turning away from sin and to the things of God – a change from sinful actions to righteous pursuits. It’s hard to believe, but in a few short years – a few decades – the church of Jesus Christ had sunk to great depths and needed to repent. And so, as we’ve made our way through these letters, I’ve asked, do they speak to us? To the church generally today, and to us at Alliance specifically. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Have we forgotten our first love? Have we started tolerating sin? Do we have a reputation of being alive when we’re in danger of death?
And then we get to Laodicea. Are we living in Laodicea? I read the letter many times this week – actually, over the past few months. Over and over, I’ve thought – this isn’t us, right Lord? We may have some areas of improvement, correction, but certainly we’ve not sunk to these depths, have we? No, Alliance is not Laodicea, I concluded.
Now, as I read the commentaries, there’s some discussion as to whether this was an apostate church – that there weren’t even believers in this church. And yet, Jesus does address the church of Laodicea. We know a church isn’t a building – it’s the people – and the church is made up of followers of Jesus – however strong or weak. Certainly, there were some believers here – else, who was Jesus talking to? Again, the thought, this certainly isn’t us, is it?
And then I read these ominous words, and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. You do not know this is you. So, let’s listen with open ears and hearts – individually and collectively – as we read this letter today. Revelation 3:14-22.
Maybe this is us, maybe it isn’t. Maybe this is some of us, and maybe it isn’t. But given the truth of the King coming in judgment, perhaps we should listen carefully. The outline is basically the same as the last several weeks:
- The Angel of the Church of Laodicea (14)
- The Self-Description of Christ [which, remember, fits each church’s need] (14)
- Notice, no commendation of this church, only the Correction of the Church (15-17)
- The Call to Repentance (18-20)
- The Promise to the Overcomers (21)
- The Call to Hear the Spirit (22)
I want to encourage us to ask and answer the question, is this me, is this us? Let’s begin as we have each week with a look at the city in which the church is found – here, Laodicea. It was one of three cities in the Lycus valley. It was the southeastern most city of the seven, about one hundred miles east of Ephesus and forty-five miles southeast of Philadelphia. That’s important because it was on the crossroads of a road from Ephesus in the west to the interior, and from Pergamum up to north to the Mediterranean Sea.
The other two cities were Hierapolis, about six miles to the north, and Colossae, ten miles to the east. These cities are mentioned in the letter to the Colossians, 4:13, “For I testify for him [that is, Epaphras] that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis.” All three churches were founded, probably by Epaphras, during Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.
Laodicea was founded by Antiochus II and named after his wife Laodice sometime before 253 BC, since he divorced her then. Its original settlers were from Syria, but there was also a significant number of Jews there – some say as many as 7,500 Jewish men alone. The Talmud even mentioned the Jewish population there, scornfully commenting on the life of ease and laxity of the Laodicean Jews. Which is interesting – there is no mention of persecution by the Jews in the letter – many rightly suggest they had been so assimilated by the culture, Judaism and a so-called Jewish Messiah didn’t matter to them. They had become quite syncretistic – worshiping the God of Israel, and others. The two main gods worshiped there were Men and Zeus, although they also worshiped Apollo.
It became a Roman city in 133 BC, and with the Pax Romana and the greater freedom of travel and commerce, it became an extremely wealthy city. In fact, there was an earthquake that leveled the city in 60 AD, but the people of Laodicea rebuilt the city themselves, rejecting help from Rome. It was said to be even more beautiful than before. The ruins are incredible.
As other cities, it was located at the crossroads of two major trade routes – east and west, north and south – which contributed to their wealth. As such, it became a major commercial city, and was especially known for three things – keep these in mind. First, it was an important banking center – lots of money. Second, it was famous for the soft, black wool it produced. It was made into clothes and carpet and shipped all over the world. Finally, there was a medical school there, which developed an eye salve for curing eye disease that was also shipped all over the Greco-Roman world. This city was wealthy and renowned.
The one drawback for the city was its lack of water. The water had to be piped in six miles from nearby Denizli in an underground aqueduct. The water came from a hot spring, but by the time it arrived, it was tepid, filled with minerals, and undrinkable. It was used for other purposes, just not human consumption.
Which brings us to our second point, the self-description of Christ. Like last week, the description does not come from John’s description in chapter 1. First, Jesus refers to Himself as the Amen. Amen was a Hebrew word which spoke of truth. Interestingly, it was used of God in Isaiah 65, in the context of the new heavens and new earth. There we read, “Because he who is blessed in the earth will be blessed by the God of truth; and he who swears in the earth will swear by the God of truth.” In the next verse, God says, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth.” But what I want you to notice is the God of truth – which means He is true to His promises. The Hebrew word for truth is amen – He is the God of the Amen, of truth. Jesus takes that title upon Himself – He is not only true, but He is the God of truth.
Further, He is the faithful and true Witness. In chapter 1, He was called the faithful witness. Remember, faithfulness and witness in the book of Revelation often point to faithfulness while suffering. Who was more faithful than Jesus while suffering? The point is, what He sees and says is true and reliable and trustworthy. What He is about to say to this church is true and reliable and trustworthy. He knows – He’s not making this up – this in an accurate, truthful description of a troubled church.
He then refers to Himself as the Beginning of the creation of God. Don’t be confused by that. The word beginning speaks of rank – He is the highest in rank over all God’s creation. Further, He is the source of creation. And then we remember the letter to the Colossians, which was to be read in Laodicea:
13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,
14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.
17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him,
Colossians 2 elaborates – all the fullness of deity dwells in Him. Meaning, Jesus is true and faithful, the beginning or ruler and source of all God’s creation. In Him the Laodiceans will find life – not in the things that have made them self-sufficient, complacent and distracted.
Which brings us to the correction in verses 15-17. Jesus starts with the normal, I know your deeds – but then has nothing good to say about them. I know that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. You’re not. Lots of discussion about that through the years. Some have suggested to be hot means to be on fire for Christ, and to be cold means the opposite – to not know Christ at all. But it’s hard to imagine Jesus saying, I would rather have you a cold non-Christian than a lukewarm one. Why would He say that?
You see, we have to remember the context of Laodicea. A few miles away were the hot, medicinal waters of Hierapolis, and another few miles in different direction were the cool, refreshing waters of Colossae. Laodicea didn’t have either of those – and neither did the church. In other words, both cold and hot referred to useful water. But, Jesus said, you are lukewarm – like the waters from the aqueduct that are not fit for consumption. In other words, like Sardis, they were dead. Useless. No value. And because you are, I will spit – more literally – vomit you out of My mouth.
How did they become useless? Verse 17 tells us, “Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.’” The Laodiceans thought themselves spiritually rich because they were materially rich. Sound familiar? This is one of our culture’s biggest challenges in evangelism. People are fine – they don’t see a need for Jesus. And even if they do, they simply want to add Him to their already wonderful, fulfilled, complete life.
Could this self-sufficiency be a problem, not only in the culture, but in the church? Is Jesus welcome here? This apparently rich church with no seeming opposition had become complacent and distracted. They had become self-sufficient. We are rich and have need of nothing.
Again, I couldn’t help but think of the church in the US, and perhaps some in this church. We’re good, God, we can take it from here. Needs, even wants are met. No pressures, little opposition. We’re comfortable – if we need something, we’ll just buy it. We don’t know what means to be in want, because we’re not. We have need of nothing. Do you sense a desperate need of Jesus even in the midst of great wealth or accomplishment or satisfaction or education or personal contentment? Do you understand that your life is meaningless and altogether useless without Jesus, or have you just added a little Jesus to the mix of your wonderful life?
Jesus says these very challenging words, “and you do not know [you’re deceived, you’re blinded, you have poor self-awareness] that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” They were like the emperor who had no clothes. Have you ever thought of yourself that way? No, you say, I’ve never been wretched, miserable, poor, blind or naked. Yes you have. Before Christ, your life was a miserable wreck, even in the midst of plenty. You were dead in trespasses and sin – the object of God’s deserved wrath. If you think God didn’t need to do that much to save you, that He was lucky to have you on His team, you may be self-deceived.
In verses 18-20, Jesus gives the call to repentance – the way to correct this seemingly apostate church. In verse 18, He says, I advise you to buy from Me three things – things you do not have. This is why some think, perhaps rightly, these people were not Christians, simply self-deceived imposters. The three things He advises them to buy are direct attacks on the source of their wealth and self-sufficiency – don’t miss it, their banking prowess, their sought-after black wool, and their world-renowned eye salve.
Buy from Me what you do not have – starting with gold refined by fire so that you may become rich. They might say, but we are rich. They were just the opposite of the church in Smyrna to whom Jesus said, I know your poverty, but you are rich. These were rich, materially, from a worldly perspective, but from a divine perspective – the one that matters – they were poor. So buy refined gold from Me. With what? Remember Isaiah 55:1, “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.”
The good news of the gospel is that it is free – you can’t afford it – but someone else paid the price. And by simple faith in Jesus, without money and without cost, you drink deeply of the waters of life. You can buy refined gold. Many point to I Peter 1, where Peter talks about being born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. He says,
6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,
7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;
8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,
9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.
Buy this refined gold without cost, which is imperishable, more precious than gold.
Second, He advises them to buy from Him white garments so they can clothe their nakedness. This is, of course, on contrast to the black wool for which they were known, and made them rich, but they were naked. Buy, at no cost, white garments – we’ve seen that before. It speaks of the holiness of God that comes through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. Those your sins be as scarlet, they will be white as snow, washed in the scarlet blood of Jesus. Buy His righteousness which will clothe your nakedness.
Finally, buy eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you can see. You think yourselves rich – you’re not. You are blind to the truth. You need spiritual eye salve to remove your blindness so you can see your naked condition and cry out to God for the only truth that will save and restore.
Verse 19, those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, therefore, be zealous and repent. Or zealously repent. Notice, Jesus affirms His love for them, which is why He is reproving them and disciplining them. Proverbs tells us that – Hebrews quotes it. In fact, Hebrews tells us the faithful father disciplines his children, which is one way to know that we are children. This is why many believe this letter is written to Christians, but who had lost their way and were in need of correction. If you are disciplined, it means you have a heavenly Father who loves you, and wants you to repent. Zealously repent. To zealously pursue a right relationship with God.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. Many times this is seen as a salvation verse – Jesus stands and knocks on the door of your heart. If you’ll simply open your heart and receive Him, you will be saved. And that may be true, but this the door of the church. The door of professing believers. And He is knocking, seeking entrance. Please notice – Jesus was outside the church – this is at the same time one of the saddest, and most joyful verses in Scripture. He is outside, but He’s not gone. If the church will open – further – if anyone inside hears and opens the door, He will enter. He will dine with the faithful, repentant believer. To dine together speaks of close, intimate fellowship. The invitation is open to you, today.
Bringing us quickly to our last two points – the Promise to the Overcomer. I wanted to list all the promises in these seven letters, but I don’t have time – just go back and review them. But none is more spectacular than this. Verse 21, He who overcomes – that is, the one who overcomes self-sufficiency and complacency, who repents, who overcomes and buys refined gold, white garments and eye salve to see rightly – I will grant to him so sit with Me on My throne.
I’m not even sure what to say about that – sit with Christ on His throne? We remember Jesus told His disciples they would sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. But here, He says, sit with Me on My throne. This is incredible. It speaks of the royalty we share being children of God. It doesn’t mean we become God or divine. But He did speak earlier of ruling with Him – and now we see the divine Father-child relationship we share because of Christ, and the authority to reign with Him. I am speechless.
Notice, to him who overcomes just like I did, and sat down with My Father on His throne. Jesus overcame by bearing our sins and being raised from the dead. We overcome by believing in the work of Christ and not our own self-sufficiency – maybe even enduring suffering as He did. And we will sit with Christ. He who has an ear, let Him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Steve Camp sang a song in 1983 called, Living in Laodicea. The chorus went like this:
For I’ve been living in Laodicea,
And the fire that once burned bright, I’ve let it grow dim.
And the very Word I swore that I would die for, all has been forgotten,
As the world’s become my friend.
I pray that is not true of me, of you, of us. And if it is, that we would zealously repent.