Have you ever picked up a glass of what you thought was Coke, taken a big draw through the straw only to find out it was tea? Maybe it was the other way around for you. One time my dad suggested to one of my brothers that he take a teaspoon of sugar to make his hiccups stop. That brother thought the white granules on the stove top were sugar, but the teaspoon of salt he took shocked his senses. I don’t know if the hiccups stopped, but his reaction to the salt not sugar event was rather memorable.
Laodicea was a town that was far from its water sources. To solve this problem aqueducts were built to bring water south from the hot mineral springs of Hierapolis. The distance from the springs to the city being around 5 miles the water would cool down losing its satisfying property of being hot. There is some evidence that Laodicea was a wealthy city, a retirement type place. The wealthy would have known the experiences of bathing in hot springs. They would have wanted that experience in Laodicea, but not found it.
Another water source would have been snow melt, cold, pure, non-mineral water from the mountains. Colossae was 8 miles to the east, and they had this type of water. Cold water delivery could have been down the Lycus river and then overland to Laodicea. This transit, though, would also have caused it to lose its distinguishing feature: coldness.
So the once hot water had cooled enough to be a poor bathing experience, and the cold water had warmed enough to lose its refreshing character. That is the backstory on the analogy Jesus used to frame the important deficiency of the Laodicean believers. With that let us dive in to this last letter.
Jesus was consistent
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. (Revelation 3:14–ESV)
I struggled to connect these traits of Jesus to this church. God helped me to see why Jesus led this letter as he did. The word “Amen” means firm, steady, trustworthy. Faithful is a word of consistency, stability, longevity. Jesus closes his self-description by pointing out how long he had been at this. He was present at the beginning of creation. Here in this letter of the end of all things Jesus tells this apathetic church that apathy was not a trait of Christ.
Remember that this is a retirement town and the church would have reflected the culture to some extent. It would have had a significant percentage of wealthy, accomplished retirees. As a way of comparison think of the composition of Florida. Perhaps Laodicea had a lot of folks were sitting around sipping pleasures, grumbling about aches and pains, floating toward the closure of life.
Jesus was present at the creation, and was faithful and true all the way through. The people at Laodicea need to hear the manner and traits of Christ. He, as their example, needed to be viewed that way. Most importantly they needed to see him as their example.
What about me and us?
As I think about my life I have had a variety of ambitions. I have had one profession and that is ophthalmology. That is what God directed my life toward, but I have always been a bit vexed by it wanting to get away. Thinking back over the last 8 to 10 years I see forays into alternate possibilities for a profession: coffee manufacturing business, the FAA license to fly my drones commercially, a number of websites and would like to monetize them. I think I see greener grass in all of them.
Running alongside all of these notions was the clear message from God: “My intention for you is ophthalmology.” Intertwined with this message is another one: “See how I have provided for you all the things you want in ophthalmology?” To my knowledge my pursuits of these other things were legitimate. I wanted them and God granted them, but their scope was never to supplant my first calling. I am growing to embrace this and more and more willingly I am sending my roots down into it. The sap there is the most nourishing, and it should be: it is God’s sap.
I think this is how I have been steady and on point with what God has directed me toward. That, plus application of the teaching and styles of Christ to my moments is how I have aimed to be trustworthy, faithful and align myself with Jesus, the man from heaven.
My story is just that: one man’s lessons with God. What is your story? Are you where God has launched you? Are you applying the teaching and styles of Christ to your moments? Let us move on to what was happening in ancient Laodicea.
A splash of water
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. (Revelation 3:15-16–ESV)
Remember the water analogy above? Hot water and cold water were both things that had good properties, good traits. Hot mineral baths and cool refreshing water were valued in Laodicea, but not readily available. The water brought from afar only hinted at what it had been. It had enough of the original trait to remind, but had lost so much of the original trait that people in Laodicea would reject it.
The church at Laodicea had a history, and a good one. The problem was that their history was just that: history.
The life of a person as a disciple of Christ is to improve becoming ever more like Jesus. That is maturity, and a thing available; a thing needed. This church had run backwards, like the water from Hierapolis or Colossae. Water runs downstream, but the disciple of Christ is to run upstream. A Christian should not be a raft, but a motor boat.
So here Jesus tells his pastor at Laodicea that he knows their deeds and knows them to be lacking. This church stands out among the 7 for having no good deeds. It is the opposite of Smyrna which had no bad deeds reported. This church has nearly come to the end of the line spiritually, and here God warns them of a coming fate.
Where are you? When you look back over your life have you previously excelled at various spiritual features and facets? Have you lost them? Did you ever have them? There is a chance that you have responded so minimally that you have never really gotten on point with Christ. That is not the issue that the Laodicean church faced.
Alternatively do not confuse maturity with losing your spiritual vitality. Maturity may alter the way your spiritual trajectory is expressed. You must remain in careful and attentive connection with God to be able to discern these things. God, though, speaks the language of your heart and knows all about your past. He knows what your future can be as well. Look to it. Read your Bible, pray and wait upon the Lord. He will show the way. God can mend your fences. He opens doors through fences and will direct you in the right direction.
Next let’s see how God sought to direct Laodicea.
They had a spiritually wrecked retirement
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. (Revelation 3:17–ESV)
Jesus knew this people: their motives and thoughts, and he saw it as a disaster. The disaster was not really looming, but rather was already present. What was the shape of their viewpoint? “I have arrived!” Read through the parable of the rich fool which is below.
15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”‘ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:15-21–ESV)
This parable was a response to a man’s family squabbles. A father had died and one brother was not sharing the inheritance with the other. The issue was a desire for wealth and Jesus refused the man’s request instead offering this parable. He shifted the ground from money grabbing to eternity, from the now to the ultimate later.
There were Christians in the retirement village of Laodicea’s Christian church. They were wealthy, and from that footing they were claiming success in life; self-sufficiency even. “I have prospered,” was one piece of this and “I need nothing” was the other. The man in Jesus’ parable was in a similar mold. Jesus used that parable as a response to those who would seek earthly things as the shape of success.
Risk in this retirement
The risk and reality was money blindness. Their self-sufficiency deceived them. Look at the words that Jesus used to describe their reality:
Ouch! That is a spectrum of things these church members assumed they to be irrelevant for them. Here Jesus, present from the creation, says they did not even know how desperate their condition was. Their ease and comfort was more than a snare to them. It had snared them. They were stuck in the hunter’s net and were happy about it. The hunter was coming, but the trap was so deceptive they considered it a great thing.
Think of a bird caught in a net and loving it. The hunter is coming to get them, but is still far enough off that they don’t hear him coming. Along comes Jesus and he says, “Hey, birds, you are stuck.”
Are you in the woods of life? Are you stuck in a trap? How would you even know? You know by listening to the voice of Jesus. Learn that voice and if trapped call for help. If not trapped ask for help in seeing the traps. Life is not over till it’s over. Traps can spring all the way to the finish line. Jesus will show them to you and help you avoid them. Look to his word and his style of life and in the end you will arrive safely in heaven: God’s house. There is style will be your reflex and your joy.
I sat for a while thinking to say some things on the shortcomings of the Laodiceans. I was directed back to look at how Jesus directed them. Here is verse 18 which is the recommendation of Christ.
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. (Revelation 3:18–ESV)
Jesus used their language, the language of money, in his recommendation. You can almost imagine a wealthy family of the ancient world where the men of the family run the businesses and manage the investments. The women go to the markets to buy dresses, finery and makeup: things of personal beauty and adornment. 1
So like the cold water and the hot water Jesus draws analogies from their experiences to point them in the right direction. He ties their market trips and investment goals to their spiritual realities of true nakedness and true poverty.
This is the counsel of God. In Luke 12 Jesus pointed out to the brother who had missed the inheritance that Jesus was not there to judge family squabbles, but rather to give guidance. In Revelation 3 Jesus continued the same paradigm pointing out shortcomings and then giving curative recommendations. Seek Jesus first and the rest of these things will be added. They were to use their faculties to obtain things that are eternal, that matter. They were to hide their sins with things from God.
Jesus move beyond analogy
19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. (Revelation 3:19–ESV)
This is a pastor and a church Jesus is speaking to and he loves them. Those whom Jesus loves he directs. He does not allow them to wallow in their sins, that is for pigs. Jesus will come down in the pigsty and rebuke, disciple, prod to get up out of the mud and move forward spiritually.
When I first read about the cold and hot water I presumed that cold meant rebellion or obstinacy, but when Jesus said that he wished they were cold or hot that view point fell apart. Jesus does not wish those he loves to become obstinate, rebellious. He wants them to be genuine, to be zealous in their life of godliness. So cold was good and hot was good, but these were things they had lost.
The consistent message throughout these letters again comes out here: repent. In the Holy Scripture we have been given many admonitions. Often the choices we face in life are not grey areas. I think it is typical to know what we should do in the major areas of life, but we either are too blind to see what is right or too rebellious to choose it.
Here is that evangelistic verse of verses
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. (Revelation 3:20–ESV)
I think it is very telling that this verse which pastors and evangelists usually use in the context of reaching sinners for Christ is not how it was cast in the scriptures.
In this passage we have believers who are self-sufficient. They are Christians, but their choices have evicted Jesus. Jesus loves them and is seeking to reenter fellowship with them. It is more that than that Jesus stands at the door of the non-Christian life. Of course he desires all people to come to salvation, but those whom he has had relationship with he wants to remain in relationship with.
Even a Christian can grow deaf to the calls of Christ. Christians can become poor, wretched, blind, naked and pitiable. That is not good for them, nor is it a thing God desires. He does not want to just beat people back into the sales pyramid. God wants them to willingly enter into what they know is right and in that have life and life to the full.
Think back to the story I told you of my brother taking a teaspoon of salt rather than sugar or finding the glass full of tea not coke. In both the expectations were abruptly, rudely shattered by reality. I don’t think that Jesus can be surprised by things as he sees them coming, but it is a useful analogy for us to consider his reaction.
When he tested the Laodicean church the members were found to have largely abandoned righteousness. They were apathetic to the things that mattered. It was not merely laziness, but it could be said that they had abandoned Christianity as a player in their day-to-day lives. Christian principles had been set aside as irrelevant in their decision making.
Note the grace of Jesus. He said, “I am about to…” in the NIV or, “I will spit you out of my mouth.” in the ESV. They have not yet been discarded. They are receiving another call of God to righteousness in life. He is standing at their door knocking because they have evicted him. That is grace. He has not become mad at them. They do not learn of his displeasure when they land in the garbage truck. They are given a letter of warning telling them that they are about to be put in the garbage can.
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.'” (Revelation 3:21-22–ESV)
The misdirections of the Laodicean Christians are things which will need warred against. Sitting deeply in the motivations the impulses to wrong headedness will need conquered. Once conquered a new throne will be granted. One rules from a throne, and they needed to rule their passions and their apathy to things of God. Jesus conquered and now rules. They could too, but the choice is theirs. The time had come for real purity, real godliness.