A Study of the Seven Churches of Asia
by Al Maxey

(Revelation 3:14-22)

The city of Laodicea was founded by Antiochus II, a Seleucid king who reigned from 261 - 246 B.C. It was named after his wife, Laodice, who later showed her love and gratitude by poisoning him. It was located 40-50 miles SE of Philadelphia, 11 miles west of Colossae, and 6 miles south of Hierapolis. It is mentioned in Scripture as one of the churches of the Lycus Valley, which were probably all established by Epaphras. In 361 A.D. the Council of Laodicea was held which established the NT canon.

"Laodicea has the grim distinction of being the only Church of the seven about which the Risen Christ has nothing good to say" (William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol. 1, p. 137). Our Lord does not gloss over their sin, but exposes and reproves and disciplines them because He loves them, and desires them to repent and live up to their true potential! "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent" (Rev. 3:19). To turn one's back on sin being committed by others is not a mark of one's love for them!


ONE --- "I know your deeds" (NASB, NWT, NIV, NAB) ..... "works" (ASV, KJV, RSV, NKJV) ..... "I know your record of works and what you are doing" (Amplified) ..... "I know what you have done" (TEV, SEB, Phillips) ..... "I know all your ways" (NEB) ..... "I know you well" (LB). By saying, "I know....", Jesus indicates again that He is well aware of the true condition of His people. Men and congregations may fool one another for a time, but they can never fool the Lord.

Jesus does not state that they were doing nothing, only that they are unacceptable. Christians often mistakenly assume that as long as they are keeping busy, the Lord will be satisfied with them. However, it is not by externals that we are judged worthy or unworthy, but by internals -- Jesus looks past the show we put on and examines the heart! "I feel sure this church was grinding away at doing their thing, oblivious to the fact that Christ had no part in their pitiful performance" (Hal Lindsey, There's A New World Coming, p. 68).

TWO --- "You are neither cold nor hot" (all translations). "Cold" is the Greek word psuchros which means "cold or chilled, chilly." "It can mean cold to the point of freezing" (William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol. 1, p. 141). "Cold northern blasts He sends that turn the ponds to lumps of ice. He freezes over every body of water, and clothes each pool with a coat of mail" (The Book of Sirach -- or: Ecclesiasticus -- 43:21). "And because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold" (Matt. 24:12).

"Hot" is the Greek word zestos which signifies something which is not just hot, but "boiling hot." This word is used only two other times in the pages of the NT writings: Apollos is described as being "fervent (boiling hot) in spirit" (Acts 18:25), and Paul says that we are to be "fervent (boiling hot) in spirit, serving the Lord" (Rom. 12:11). It signifies a spiritual intensity and fervor that was sadly lacking in Laodicea. "It is a religion which is like a fire in a man's bones and which pervades every part and corner of his life. Here is the great fact that there can be no real religion without enthusiasm" (William Barclay, Letters To The Seven Churches, p. 97).

The Laodiceans were neither of the above: they were neither spiritually hot nor cold. Jesus says that He would actually prefer either condition to what they actually were: "I would that you were cold or hot" (NASB, NWT, ASV, NEB, KJV, NKJV, RSV, SEB, Amplified, Phillips) ..... "How I wish that you were either one or the other!" (NIV, NAB, TEV, LB). Had they been "fervent in spirit" He would be praising them now, and had they been spiritually cold they might be more easily reached with the Good News. "The unsaved man is more easily aroused to realize his lost condition than the self-satisfied, sleeping Christian who is deceived in thinking himself safe" (J.T. Hinds, A Commentary On The Book Of Revelation, p. 62).

"You are lukewarm: neither hot nor cold" (most all translations --- the TEV reads "barely warm"). The Greek word is chliaros which means "tepid, lukewarm." This word occurs only here in the entire Bible. It describes those who are neither on fire spiritually, nor totally cold; it is "nominal Christianity." "They were betwixt-and-between Christians, having very little warmth of Christian love. Their works, which Jesus called their attention to, were obviously limited to the barest, conscience-easing minimum, and performed with little enthusiasm" (James M. Tolle, p. 73).

"The choice of the figure of lukewarmness to characterize the Laodiceans' ineffectiveness or lack of zeal may have been suggested by their city's water supply, drawn from the hot springs at Denizli to the south, which was still tepid after flowing for five miles in stone pipes -- unlike the cold water which refreshed their neighbors at Colossae, or the hot water whose healing properties were valued by those of Hierapolis" (The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 1687).

"The very expression 'a lukewarm Christian' is a contradiction in terms, for a lukewarm Christian has no claim to be called a Christian at all" (William Barclay, Letters To The Seven Churches, p. 98). "The lukewarm Christian will do the church more harm than the unsaved sinner! Inconsistent and hypocritical members of the church exercise a more deadly influence against the truth, and keep more people from obeying the gospel, than outright sinners" (J.T. Hinds, p. 62). "Yes, 'lukewarm,' that is the word! The people of Laodicea knew exactly what that meant. Lukewarm, tepid, flabby, half-hearted, limp, always ready to compromise, indifferent, listless, that 'we're all good people here in Laodicea' attitude. You cannot do anything with such people!" (William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors, p. 94).

"So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth" (NASB, NEB, LB, NIV,TEV, Phillips) ..... "spew" ("to vomit; to throw up/eject from the stomach" -- Webster's New World Dictionary) -- (ASV, KJV, NKJV, RSV, NAB, Amplified) ..... "vomit" (NWT, SEB). The word "spit" may sound less crude, but the Greek word used here by Jesus is emeo which simply means "to vomit." Such words as "emetic" (a medicine or other substance that causes vomiting), and "emesis basin" (a container used in hospitals), come from this Greek word. (NOTE: the word for "spit" in the Greek is ptuo which is an onomatopoeia -- "a word formed by imitating the natural sound associated with the object or action involved.")

"The strong figure of tepid water causing nausea is used to open their eyes to the Lord's abhorrence of their present attitude" (Dr. Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John, p. 490). "We do not read that He is grieved with them. Neither do we read that He is angry with them. No, He is disgusted with these straddlers. And not just slightly disgusted either. No, thoroughly disgusted" (William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors, p. 95). The Lord is trying to reawaken this congregation to the age-old truth that the Lord will severely punish those who are "stagnant in spirit" (Zephaniah 1:12).

THREE --- "You say, 'I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'" (Rev. 3:17a). "How rich I am! And how well I have done! I have everything I want!" (NEB) ..... "I am so rich and secure that I want for nothing!" (NAB). This attitude of complete self-sufficiency was also characteristic of the city itself. In 60 A.D. Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake, yet the citizens refused assistance from Rome, and rebuilt their city from their own resources. Tacitus (an early 2nd century historian) wrote, "The same year Laodicea, one of the most famous cities of Asia, having been prostrated by an earthquake, recovered herself by her own resources, and without any relief from us." "The whole attitude of Laodicea was that it could cope with life quite well by itself" (William Barclay, Letters To The Seven Churches, p. 98).

"The Laodicean church is marked neither by steadfast loyalty nor by active disloyalty, but rather by a comfortable self-satisfaction which made it incapable of bearing true witness to Christ" (The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 1687). "They are entirely satisfied with themselves and their low plane of Christian attainment; they flatter themselves that they are 'good Christians' and have no spiritual lack. In their own eyes they already possess all the spiritual gifts of knowledge and Christian character --- they are rich, and in need of nothing" (Dr. Isbon T. Beckwith, p. 490 & 487).

"The picture well describes many congregations today: they possess material prosperity, they engage in 'projects' that use finances but which express no real spiritual zeal. They develop a 'teaching program' more formal than productive of true inward development. They enjoy a comfortable building and a respected social position in the community, and live in worldly enjoyment that requires neither sacrifice nor effort. They feel sufficient within themselves. Such a church can point to these externals and boast, 'See how the Lord has blessed us'" (Homer Hailey, p. 159). There were some in Corinth who were developing this same attitude (see: I Cor. 4:8). They needed to learn the truth of II Cor. 3:5-7a -- "We are not adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants."

An attitude of total self-sufficiency and self-reliance leads to an attitude of self-satisfaction. Laodicea was the "status-quo congregation;" they were neither hot nor cold, but happy just the way they were. And Jesus says that they made Him sick!!

FOUR --- "You do not know that you are wretched" (NASB, ASV, LB, KJV, NKJV, NIV, RSV, NAB, Phillips, Amplified) ..... "miserable" (NWT, TEV, SEB) ..... "You are the most pitiful wretch" (NEB). This is the Greek word talaiporos which means "wretched, miserable, distressed, afflicted." These people were self-deluded, and unable to perceive their true spiritual condition; unlike Paul, who, when he saw his sinfulness, said, "Wretched man that I am!" (Rom. 7:24).

FIVE --- "...and miserable" (NASB, ASV, LB, KJV, NKJV) ..... "pitiable" (NWT, RSV, NAB, Phillips, Amplified) ..... "pitiful" (NEB, NIV, TEV, SEB). This is the Greek word eleeinos which means "pitiable, wretched, miserable." "Here the idea is probably that of a combination of misery and pitiableness" (W.E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of NT Words). The only other occurrence of this word in the NT writings is I Cor. 15:19 -- "If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied."

"Who is more to be pitied than an individual who imagines that he is a fine Christian, whereas in reality the Christ Himself is utterly disgusted with him?" (William Hendriksen, p. 95).

SIX --- "...and poor" (most all translations) ..... "poverty-stricken" (Phillips). This is the Greek word ptochos which means "poor, indigent, beggarly, impoverished." It is derived from a verb meaning "to cringe as a beggar." It goes beyond being just poor, it is absolute destitution. Although they viewed themselves as being spiritually rich, Jesus knows their true condition: spiritually destitute!

In His three-fold counsel to this congregation, Jesus makes use of the commercial background of the city of Laodicea. "I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich" (Rev. 3:18a). Laodicea was a wealthy city, and the banking center for the region. To be truly rich, in the things that matter, we must go to the Great Banker and acquire from Him the spiritual riches of the Kingdom of God.

SEVEN --- "...and blind" (all translations). This is the word tuphlos. It comes from a root word meaning "to burn; smoke." It can also refer to a mental or spiritual blindness; the smoking/clouding over of one's insight (see: Matt. 15:14; 23:17; John 12:40; Rom. 2:19; II Cor. 4:3-4; II Peter 1:9; I John 2:11).

There was a famous medical school in Laodicea and the people prided themselves on the well-known eye-salve that was produced here. "Phrygian stone" was powdered to produce "Collyrium" (a Greek word meaning "salve" --- used by Jesus in vs. 18). This powder was mixed with oil and applied to the eyes as an ointment. "Travelers over the sand with the sun and wind beating in their eyes found this balm a welcome relief" (Ray Summers, p. 126).

The problem in the church at Laodicea, however, was their spiritual perception, not their physical sight. The famous ointment from the powdered Phrygian stone would not help that condition; only Jesus had the remedy. "I advise you to buy from Me ... eye-salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see" (Rev. 3:18c). R.C. Trench says, "The beginning of all true amendment is to see ourselves as we are." Before the Laodiceans could remedy their spiritual condition, they needed to have the veil removed from their eyes so that they could see themselves as the Lord saw them. "Whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away" (II Cor. 3:16).

EIGHT --- "...and naked" (all translations). This is the Greek word gumnos which means "naked, unclothed, uncovered, bare." It may also refer, as it does in this passage, to being unclothed spiritually -- not arrayed in the garments of spirituality. Like the Emperor, in the story The Emperor's New Clothes, the Laodiceans thought they were dressed in spiritual finery, but in the eyes of the Lord they were naked. "Their robes of haughty self-sufficiency did not cover them up before God as well as they did before men. What they called clothing left them naked before God" (Ray Summers, p. 126).

God desires that His people be arrayed with holiness (Psalm 110:3). "And let not your adornment be merely external -- braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God" (I Peter 3:3-4). See also: II Cor. 5:2-4.

The city of Laodicea also prided itself on its clothing trade. The black woolen cloaks known as "laodicea" were famous all over the world at that time. In fact, the 2nd ranking business in Laodicea was the black wool market. In a city noted for its fine clothing, the church was going about "naked!" In the ancient world, to be stripped naked before others was the worst humiliation! (see: II Samuel 10:4-5; Isaiah 20:4; Ezekiel 16:37-39; 23:26-29; Hosea 2:3, 9-10; Micah 1:8, 11)

Jesus tells them, "I advise you to buy from Me ... white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed" (Rev. 3:18b). "Laodicea prides itself on the magnificent garments it produces, but spiritually it is naked, and nakedness is shame. The Risen Christ urges it to buy white raiment from Him. This may well stand for the beauties of life and character which only the grace of Christ can give. There is little point in a man adorning his body, if he has nothing with which to adorn his soul. Not all the clothes in the world will beautify a person whose nature is twisted and whose character is ugly" (William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol. 1, p. 144).

NINE --- "Be zealous therefore, and repent" (NASB, NWT, ASV, KJV, NKJV, RSV, NAB) ..... "Be earnest" (NIV, TEV) ..... "shake off your complacency" (Phillips) ..... "turn from your indifference and become enthusiastic" (LB) ..... "be on your mettle therefore and repent" (NEB) ..... "be serious and change your heart" (SEB) ..... "be enthusiastic and in earnest and burning with zeal, and repent -- changing your mind and attitude" (Amplified).

This is the Greek word zeleuo which means "to manifest zeal, exert oneself earnestly; zealous, enthusiastic." The Lord is commanding the Laodiceans to change their hearts and minds; to stop being lukewarm and start being zealous and on fire for Him. Instead of "stagnant in spirit," they are to become "fervent in spirit!"


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