The Church of Laodicea

16 May
Laodicea -1

Photo: © Mark R. Fairchild, Huntington University

Laodicea was built by Antiochus II, King of Syria, in honor of his wife, Laodice. The city is approximately 11 miles west of Colossae and 99 miles east of Ephesus. According to Strabo, it was situated on a main trade route, from which it drew its great wealth and commercial importance in Asia Minor. Late in the third century BC or early in the second, Antiochus the Great transported 2000 Jewish families into Asia Minor from Babylonia,[1] thus testifying of a large Jewish population there in the first century AD. No doubt the displacement of the Jews included Laodicea. The city suffered from earthquakes, and a major quake destroyed much of it cir. 60 AD. However, when Nero offered to rebuild Laodicea, its rich inhabitants declined, intending to rebuild on its own. Paul mentions the church of Laodicea in his letter to Colossae, saying he had not visited them in person (Colossians 2:1), but Epaphras, a teacher and friend of Paul, labored in the Gospel among both Colossians and the Laodiceans (Colossians 1:7; 4:12-13). Evidently, Paul wrote to the church of Laodicea, and his concern for them in particular may indicate his epistle was written at the time of the earthquake mentioned above (Colossians 2:1; 4:15-16).

Jesus told the church at Laodicea that he knew their works, and they were neither hot nor cold (Revelation 3:15). He said he wished the church was either cold or hot, because, if they were, they would be useful and spiritually refreshing (Jeremiah 18:14). For example cold waters are refreshing to a thirsty man on a hot day. In the context of the writing of the Apocalypse, the disciples were enduring persecution (Revelation 1:9), so just as the snowcapped mountains in the distance held the promise of refreshing waters in the near future, during the hot harvest season, so a message of encouragement from a distant land was refreshing to the soul enduring trouble for the sake of that land (Proverbs 25:13, 25; cf. Isaiah 33:17).

On the other hand, a hot drink can also be very refreshing on a cold day. The word hot (zestos – G2200) is an adjective and appears only three times in the New Testament and only in Revelation 3:15 & 16. The verb form of the Greek word is zeo (G2204), and it is found only in Acts 18:25 and Romans 12:11, where it is translated being fervent (in spirit), i.e. being zealous toward God. In other words, Jesus is saying he wishes the church at Laodicea were zealous (hot) for the work of the Gospel sake or had a quiet, refreshing (cold) spirit for the encouragement of the weary laborers.

Laodicea didn’t have a local water supply, cold water from Colossae was in abundance, but, by the time the aqueducts brought it ten to eleven miles away from Colossae to Laodicea, it was lukewarm. On the other hand hot springs were available six miles away in Hierapolis, but once more, by the time those waters reached Laodicea, they, too, were lukewarm. So, the church had a vivid picture of what Jesus was saying. Hot and cold waters were useful for refreshing drinks, for bathing, soothing sore muscles etc., but lukewarm waters were useless for any of these things, and in the context of the Gospel a lukewarm attitude was useless to God.

Jesus concluded that, because the church was lukewarm (Revelation 3:16), and a lukewarm drink is refreshing to no one, he was about to (or “was going to”) spit them out of his mouth, if they didn’t repent. Their zeal had cooled to a lukewarm attitude, and their former refreshing encouragement had warmed up to an undesirable taste. Who would ever be inspired to repent and submit to the rule of Jesus, if the Gospel had no fire, if it had no encouragement, if it offered nothing better than what one had? If the believers at Laodicea weren’t excited over Christ, why should they expect an unbeliever to get excited over him?

Most of what I hear folks say about being lukewarm is that the church is becoming more and more worldly, and there is more world in the church than church in the world, etc. But, I have a tough time accepting such an understanding. After all, didn’t John tells us that it is impossible for born again believers to live in sin (1John 3:9). When a believer sins, his conscience bothers him so much that he cannot keep sinning for a long period of time. He **must** repent and return to Christ. Therefore, I don’t believe becoming lukewarm means I’ve become worldly. Rather, I believe being lukewarm has to do with the same trouble we find throughout the other six churches in Revelation. They had a problem with false teachers preaching Judaism or the Law, which emphasized one’s sinful nature and all that goes with that. It also placed an emphasis on daily devotions and prayer, make sure you tithe and give the proper offering to God (via the church), and don’t forget to attend worship service every week (at least once, but two to three times a week would be better).

Discipleship through intimidation produces lukewarm behavior. An emphasis on duty leads to weariness of the soul, and is very fleshy. It takes the emphasis off Christ who will produce the fruit of righteousness in the believer without the believer having to worry about those things. Does the apple tree need to be concerned about producing its fruit, or does the root take care of such matters? If I’m in Christ, I’ll produce the fruits of Christ. If I’m in the Law, I’ll produce the fruits of legalism. Micromanagement never produces a believer zealous for the Gospel, nor does it produce any of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). All micromanagement does is produce an **us** and **them** kind of attitude, and how can Christ use that?


[1] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 12.3.4

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Posted by on May 16, 2019 in Apocalypse, Book of Revelation


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