LAODICEA (Rev 3.14-22)
After the refreshing change of Philadelphia, the faithful church, Laodicea, brings us back to the continual decline seen in the three before that. This decline had resulted in the Lord acknowledging only a "few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments" (3.4), but here at Laodicea we will see that His appeal will come down to the individual - "if any man hear my voice".
The church in Laodicea is referred to in Pauls letter to the nearby Colossians, which also refers (indirectly Col 4.16) to the church in Ephesus. So the first and last churches in this study are the only two known from other Scriptures, and, along with the Colossians, these churches were known to each other and also were both the recipients of letters from Paul. It is also thought that Pauls first letter to Timothy, who was at Ephesus, was written from Laodicea. It would appear that this privileged church had received divine truth, had been visited by able servants of God, and was associated with other companies of Gods people. Yet they have now declined to such a condition that, in common with the first church Ephesus, they are threatened with removal.
The Lords censure
To the Lord Jesus is attributed a threefold title in v.14. As the "Amen" He is the final word with nothing beyond Him in the future, the absolute truth; as the "faithful and true witness" He is the only accurate assessor of the present; and as the "beginning (or better "beginner") of the creation of God" He is before all things as to the past. As such He alone can make a true assessment of this church whose self-assessment, found in v.17, seems to be far removed from His. As with the other churches He proclaims, "I know", and summarises their condition as "lukewarm" (vv.15-16). His great desire for them is that they would be "zealous" or on fire for Him, but even to be cold, that is without any claim to divine life, would be better than being tepid. At least He could do something with them, but their lukewarm state made them only fit to be emitted from His mouth (v.16), a reference to the potential removal of the testimony at Laodicea.
The Lord, as He often did while here on earth, continues to use the everyday things of life familiar to them in order to make His point. He has already referred to their being lukewarm, a feature of Laodicean water because it had to be piped in from a distance. Laodicea was also renowned for its wealth, particularly from gold refining, the eyesalve produced by their famous medical school, and the high quality garments made from the local black sheep. No doubt encouraged by material prosperity this church considered its spiritual state to mirror their wealth. What a warning this is to all of us today; materially we have never had more and may feel this has carried over to divine things. Perhaps, with comfortable meeting places, good numbers attending, and an abundance of Bible teaching and knowledge, we may think everything to be in order and prospering, but what does the Lord think? In relation to Laodicea He contrasts their material state and consideration of themselves with His declaration that they are " wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked". In a word, their problem seems to be apathy.
Sadly, it seems many of us are marked by the same problem today. We have little desire for divine things beyond meeting attendance, little interest in Gods Word beyond traditional adherence to truth understood or passed on to us by others, and little concern for the ungodly beyond a few token outreaches that have been carried on unchanged for generations. With complacency we await the Lords return, little realising that our assemblies may die out before He comes. God has always had His own testimony even in the darkest days of history and always will, even if it is not the assemblies many of us belong to. If we are to awake from that complacency and be preserved for the future we will need to heed the appeals of the Lord in vv.18-20. He offers advice to all, rebuke to some, and an appeal to individuals.
Recovery will involve cost; spiritual gold and garments need to be bought or traded for with Christ. He alone can provide that which has real value and has been proved or tried in the fire. Much of what seems substantial and is easily seen by others may prove to be "wood, hay, and stubble" when tested. Only that which has been purchased through real personal dealings with the Lord Jesus will be refined and pure. Gold clearly speaks of Christ and His value which should also be found in His people. These inward features will then of course be seen in the "white raiment" or Christ-like features displayed in our lives. But are we prepared to pay the price and "buy" these things which the Lord has on offer. To be Christ-like will be costly.
Having given counsel contrasting spiritual gold and garments to the material gold and garments known to them, He now turns to the eyesalve at the end of v.18. When anointing is mentioned the person of the Holy Spirit is in view. We live in a day when there is much confusion and contention regarding the person and work of the Spirit. As a result of this we may fail to live in the good of a Spirit filled life and deny ourselves the true spiritual insight available from Him. The New Testament clearly teaches that all true believers are indwelt (2 Tim 1.14), sealed with (Eph 1.13), and possess (Rom 8.9) the Spirit of God. It seems that the question is not how much of the Spirit I have, but how much of me He has. If we are to be "filled with the Spirit" we will need to make room for Him by the removal of other things. As in Laodicea, so modern life has many attractions and the demands that go with them. Each of us must assess our lives to ensure that He is given His rightful place and that we value the spiritual above the material. We need to see things as they really are, not as the world values them: " the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (1 Jn 2.17).
The appeal to individuals
In v.19 the Lord now narrows His appeal to "As many as I love", the word for love being brotherly love not the universal love of God for all. It seems He is declaring that, sadly, not all at Laodicea have a real relationship with Him. Some seem to be lukewarm because they have no life; hence His desire earlier that being "cold", that is aware of their state, would be preferable as He could then meet their need. But for those who are really His own, His desire is that they be "zealous" a word related to that for "hot". This will require His discipline and their repentance. As an incentive He now narrows His appeal to offer individuals intimate communion with himself in v.20. Even in conditions like Laodicea, where collective failure is evident and testimony is under threat, Christ still holds out the invitation to individuals. We may have grown lukewarm and preoccupied with the material things of life; He may have been put outside His rightful place; but He still stands at the door and knocks, patiently awaiting admission to restore fervour, feeding, and fellowship.
Finally, He holds out the reward for those who overcome. He has already offered the "gold" of Godhead, the "raiment" of the Son, and the "eyesalve" of the Spirit. Now He holds out the "throne" of the Father. The idea is that of an eastern monarchs throne which is like a bench with room for another to sit alongside. He understands our difficulties because He also had to overcome, but having completed His great work He is now seated alongside His Father (Heb 12.2). Though our work and overcoming is by no means comparable, He graciously presents similar reward and recognition. May each of us respond to this appeal not only given to Laodicea but, as with the other six, to "all the churches" including our assemblies today.