- Laodicea is situated near the modern city of Denizli, Turkey.
- It was originally called Diospolis, which means “City of Zeus”
- The definition of the name of Laodicea, (or Laodike) is a mixture Greek words: Laos means people or nation; Dike means custom, law, or judgment. Therefore, most people agree that the founders of Laodicea saw themselves as people of justice.
- In 188 BC, the city became part of the Kingdom of Pergamon
- Then around 50 years later, at around 133 BC it fell under Roman control. It suffered greatly during the Mithridatic Wars but quickly recovered under the dominion of Rome.
- At first, Laodicea was not a place of much importance, but it soon became quite wealthy.
- The more unique features of Laodicea in the Roman period were its banking system, the famous medical school, textile houses, and a complex water system.
Laodicea remained an important city until the seventh century C.E. when it was struck by a devastating earthquake and subsequently abandoned
How about the city’s financial system and trade?
- Laodicea was located on major trade routes that connected it to important cities like Ephesus, Smyrna and Sardis.
- Towards the end of the Roman Republic and under the first emperors, Laodicea, benefiting from its advantageous position on a trade route, became one of the most important and flourishing commercial cities of Asia Minor, in which large amount of money transactions and an extensive trade in black wool were thriving there.
- However, the area often suffered earthquakes, especially from the great shock that occurred in the reign of Nero (60 AD) in which the town was completely destroyed. But the inhabitants were so rich that they declined imperial assistance from the Roman empire to rebuild the city and restored it from their own means.
- However, in Revelation 3:17, it is written: Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked
- Sadly, that is the spiritual state of the church of Laodicea.
- In Revelation 3:18a I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed;
- That is why it is so important for us to reflect upon the state of our own life, our family and our church. As Christians, we must know that apart from God, we are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.
- After the people rebuilt the city, Laodicea became a great center of banking and finance, so much so that it was deemed as the banking center of the region.
- It also became one of the wealthiest cities of the ancient world.
With regards to their textile trade,
- The city’s reputation was for its money transactions and the good quality of raven-black wool grown in the area.”
- Laodicea was a great center for the manufacturing of clothing – the sheep which grazed around Laodicea were famous for the soft, black wool they produced.
- The glossy, black wool was woven into garments called trimata, which was very pricey in the Roman world. In those days, if you owned a Laodicean black coat, it would be like having a Burberry or Armani coat, a symbol of wealth.
- Laodicea was also well known even in the field of medicine.
- The city had a renowned school of medicine and it was very advanced.
- The medical school there was known throughout the Empire and especially famous for ophthalmology, including an eye salve which is mentioned by multiple ancient sources
- That reminds us in Revelation 3:18b, after Jesus counselled the church of Laodicea to buy from Him gold refined in the fire, etc., Jesus continued to tell them to anoint their eyes with eye salve, so that you may see. Spiritual blindness as a result of pride, self-conceit and ended up self-deceived.
- Two of the doctors from Laodicea, Zeuxis and Alexander Philalethes, were so famous and highly regarded that their names are found on coins issued by the city.
One of the principles of medicine at that time was that compound diseases required compound medicines
Although this city was rich, they are not problem free. The biggest problem for Laodicea was the source of water.
- Laodicea was also known as Laodicea on the Lycus.
- They did not have natural water there. So, what they did was bring water from a source miles away, from the hot springs at Hierapolis, just six miles across the Lycus River valley and to the south.
- They used a long avenue of water pipes called aqueducts to bring the water into the town. The challenge with that was that in the hot sun of Asia Minor, by the time the water got here, it was tepid and lukewarm.
- Worse yet, that particular water source was full of minerals, the kind of minerals that flavored the water to make it taste awful. When you drink it, you will feel nauseous and want to just spit it out of your mouth.
- “Water piped into Laodicea by aqueduct from the south was so concentrated with minerals, which over time would cause the pipes to clog, that the Roman engineers designed vents, capped by removable stones, so the aqueduct pipes could periodically be cleared of deposits.” (John McRay, Archaeology and The New Testament, p. 248).
- No other city on the Lycus Valley was as dependent on external water supplies as Laodicea.
- This spiritual insight used a historical reality by comparing the water of Laodicea to the hot springs of nearby Hierapolis and the cold mountain water of nearby Colossae. Unlike those nearby cities, Laodicea did not have a hot spring or a cold mountain water source, but instead an aqueduct piped in water saturated with minerals, and by the time this water reached Laodicea, it was lukewarm and full of mineral deposits, which probably made it unpleasant to drink.
- However, this water was apparently so prized to Laodicea that anyone who tried to divert any of it or use it for agriculture would be fined, anyone who damaged a water pipe would be fined (5,000 denarius/close to a year’s wages for entry level agriculture, scribes, and teachers), and city officials who allowed free use of the water would be fined even more (Nymphaeum inscription of governor Aulus Vicirius Matrialis, dedicated to Emperor Trajan ca. 114 AD).
- The world’s longest and most thorough ancient “water law” was unearthed in Laodicea in 2015. Dedicated to Roman Emperor Traianus, this inscription consists of 30 lines and has characteristics to be presented to the World Water Forum. It is significant as it is the longest and most thorough inscription, including subjects such as the preservation and systematic distribution of water sources and honesty of the people distributing water.
There’s also another alternate view about “Lukewarm” water in Laodicea.
- This idea was presented by Dr. Leithhart. He believes that the imagery of Jesus spitting out the lukewarm water has to do with hospitality.
- When serving the arriving guest, the host would either serve chilled cold wine or warmed wine. For one to serve lukewarm wine was a sign of disrespect and insult towards the guest. Not only that, it was also a mark against the host.
- The Church of Laodiceans here were said to be lukewarm when it comes to their hearts toward Jesus; neither hot nor cold. Instead of welcoming and honoring Jesus, they were apathetic, indifferent, tepid and half-hearted; totally distasteful.
- It is no wonder why Jesus wanted to vomit them out of His mouth. Worst of all, they even left Jesus outside of the door knocking.
Laodicea was mentioned in the Bible:
- While there is not a single letter written to the church of Laodicea in the Bible, there are couple of scripture that mentioned about them.
- Based on Paul’s letter to Colossians, we can infer that Paul’s letter to the Church of Laodicea was lost…
- Colossians 4:15-16 “15Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house.16Now when this epistle (referring to the Letter to the Colossians) is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea
- Colossians 2:1 1For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, 2that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, 3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
- Colossians 4:12-13 12Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. 13For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis.
The letter to the church of Laodicea begins with “These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”.
Let’s first talk about the word “Amen”. This is the first and only occurrence in the bible where Jesus gives Himself this title: “the Amen”, but what does it mean? A very popular definition of the word Amen is “so be it”, meaning so be it according to God’s will, but I have checked and found that it might not fully capture the whole meaning of the word.
The Hebrew word Amen literally means certainty, it means God’s truth. It has the similar meaning as “Verily, verily” or “truly I tell you”. Here Jesus says he is the Amen, which means He is telling us the truth with certainty, and His definitions of wealth, righteousness will overwrite any existing concepts men adopt.
Another very unfortunate misconception came from the phrase: “Jesus is the Beginning of the creation of God.” we know the right meaning for the word for this scripture if we read John’s Gospel that begins by saying “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” We can’t get any clearer than how scripture put it to us, Jesus is not the first creature, rather, He is the Source of all creations.
Another common misconception with this letter is from the word: “lukewarm”. At first glance, we may be forgiven to think that the term “lukewarm” is referring to the level of passion a believer has for God. Because naturally, that’s how us English speakers interpret hotness and coldness. Hot means full of passion, cold means completely not interested, and so lukewarm just means somewhere in the middle. But this cannot be the correct interpretation because Jesus also said I wish you were either hot or cold, which means that both hot and cold are good in His sight, and thus cold cannot mean completely not interested in God, because 2 Peter 3:9 says that the Lord does not wish anyone to perish but all should come to repentance. Therefore, the right interpretation is this: the lukewarmness refers to how undesirable their behavior is to God. A hot drink, like hot coffee, or a cold drink, like iced tea, are both desirable to drink, but Jesus here is saying that the Laodicean are neither, they are undesirable just like their lukewarm water, it makes Jesus want to vomit, and that’s what lukewarm means in this context.
Now that we have cleared some common misconceptions, let me read to you the key scripture for today, Jesus said in Revelation 3:18: I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.
And here’s the key message for us today: No matter how well we are doing, we have to recognize that we desperately need Jesus in our lives, because He alone can make us Rich, Clothed, and to able to See. But the one thing that hinders us from these provisions is this simple five-lettered word: PRIDE, so today we will tackle it together from multiple areas.
When we are proud, we will lose our spiritual wealth and become poor, because the true riches in heaven can only come from Jesus, and pride hinders us from that. When we talk about wealth in Laodicea, the first thing that would come to mind is their world class banking system. In Revelation 3:17 the Laodiceans said they were rich, wealthy, and have need for nothing. In fact, if we recall the major earthquake in AD17 where Thyatira and Sardis were badly affected, and Laodicea was almost completely destroyed. While the people in other regions accepted the help from Rome, the people of Laodicea actually refused any financial help from Rome and they managed to rebuild based on their own strength and wealth! Because of that, there are historians who described them as a people who needed no help, and it must have felt good to be so independent and capable, but Jesus saw right through them and said that they did not know that they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. But that’s not the worst, Jesus said they were lukewarm and He wanted to spit them out, because they were very comfortable without God’s help. And the same principle also applies to our lives today. How do we know if we are in danger of becoming lukewarm? The early sign is when we begin to think that we no longer need any help.
Sometimes we who are comfortable need to hear the real hard truth, and be reminded that we all desperately need Jesus, and to the Laodiceans, Jesus just gave it them straight: “You think you are rich, but you do not know that you are wretched, miserable, and poor, so buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be truly rich”. That is the way to true spiritual wealth, because the riches from Jesus are refined by fire – it will not faint, it will not burn like our money do, rather it will be everlasting in the kingdom of God.
Here’s another question to consider: Why did Jesus ask them to “buy”? Jesus never asked any other churches to buy from Him, His provision has always been free in terms of monetary value, but if we think deeper, following Jesus does cost something, and particularly to the Laodiceans, it will cost them the one thing that they are most proud of, their money. That’s the one thing that makes them feel that they need nobody’s help. We can imagine that perhaps some people in Laodicea might get offended hearing this, “poor and miserable? Us? Have you not seen our world class banking system? Take a look at our advanced medical schools. Have you not seen our clothing factories where we produce the famous Laodicean black coats? Are we poor?” And you know what, 2000 years later, you and I today can reply such responses by saying, “Yea we have seen them, they are all in ruins, your banking system has collapsed, your medical research is now outdated, nobody is wearing your precious coats anymore”. What good does it do if it cannot last? What profits a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul? It is the same for today, none of the glamor and earthly wealth that we see today can withstand the test of time. Back then, the church of Laodicea was arguably the wealthiest church among the seven, by the world’s standard they would be deemed most successful, yet they are also the only church that Jesus has nothing good to say about them. This church was full of people who were proud and lukewarm. So, they have to repent, and the same applies to what we have today, we have to humble ourselves, we have to surrender our pride, and know that we desperately need Jesus in our lives, because the only thing that is everlasting in this world is what has been given from God. What’s more, wealth is not the only thing that Jesus offered them to buy, He also counsels them to buy from Him white garments to cover their shame. That brings to my second point, we need Jesus so that we also may be clothed.
Back in Laodicea, their famous black wool textile product is a stark contrast to the white garment that Jesus offered them. In scripture, white robe often denotes righteousness, which can free people from their sin and shame. Many times, we might be ashamed of our flaws, sometimes even trapped in sins, finding it hard to break free by our own strength. Because of our sinful nature, even if we try to cleanse ourselves by our sheer will, the unfortunate truth is that it is simply impossible. All self-righteousness will eventually end in one inevitable way that can only be described in two terrifying words: they will all “fall short”. We may think that doing good deeds can get us closer to being righteous, and sometimes it might seem true, but it can never get us close enough. In Romans 3:23 all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. In other words, our nakedness, because of sin resulting in falling short of God, are now exposed.
But here is the good news, there is a solution, the solution is Jesus. To get across, we cannot rely on our own strength, instead, scripture tells us that our faith in Jesus can be accounted to us as righteousness, and that righteousness will not fall short. In this sermon series and this season in our lives, the repeating message for us is that God will carry us through if we abide in Him, even when sometimes the other side may seem so far away, Jesus can carry us through, so let us choose to live in righteousness by obeying His Word, so that we may be truly freed from sin and shame, and be clothed with the righteousness of God through our faith in Christ Jesus, for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Finally, other than the fire-refined gold that makes us spiritually rich, and the white garments that clothe us in righteousness, Jesus also counseled the Laodiceans to buy from Him another important thing, which I believe is the most crucial thing that they need at that moment, which is an eye salve that cures blindness, so that they may see. That’s our third point in our roadmap for today.
When people become proud, they place their trust in their own knowledge and eventually lose sight of what is truly important, leading to spiritual blindness. The famous school of medicine and the special eye salve that Laodiceans took pride in is a contrast to the eye salve Jesus mentioned – they thought they were very knowledgeable and educated, that they think they can see clearly, but Jesus knew that they were blind, and desperately in need. Spiritual blindness is the worst trait that one can have, because it can become a source that leads to all other undesirable situations. It makes us think that we are rich, not knowing we are wretched and poor. It makes us think that we are clothed, not knowing we are completely naked. And if our eyes are blinded by pride, if we cannot see the circumstances that we are in, if we think that everything is going well, then how can we possibly come to repentance?
Spiritual blindness is indeed a terrible thing, yet it is often the most common thing and the very first thing that happens to us when pride creeps in. When we become proud, we become blind. It doesn’t even matter if we think that we are very knowledgeable, we are all susceptible to such blindness. I mean, who do you think were the most blinded people in Jesus’ time? The Scribes and Pharisees: They knew the scripture so well; the scribes dedicated their entire lives to preserve the authenticity of scriptures, the Pharisees dedicated their entire lives teaching the laws of their ancestors, yet they can be equally blind as the sinners, if not worse. Let’s take a look at a Parable that Jesus taught us on the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14: Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people – cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ And now, the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ And Jesus said “I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
I think Jesus put it very clearly for us in this parable, and as we have also repeated many times today, we need to deal with our pride and humble ourselves before the Lord, and not to point to the sins of others but to recognize that we too are desperately in need of the Lord, so that our eyes may be opened to see ‘apart from God, we have no good thing’ [Ps 16:2], and in the end, Jesus say those who humble themselves will be exalted. Here’s a comforting thought, even though Jesus had nothing good to say about this church, He still loved them very deeply, and that is why He rebuked them sharply so that they might repent, and what’s more, He spoke to them an equally powerful promise in this letter, and let us also receive that message today. Revelation 3: 19-22 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore, be zealous and repent. 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. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Let’s now recap, the key message for us today is this: we need to give up our pride to realize that no matter where we are, we desperately need Jesus in our lives, so that we may have the spiritual riches, the garments of righteousness, and the sight to see the truth that is in Christ Jesus.
For application this week, let us revise the key message from the letter to each of the seven churches. If you can’t recall all the key points, watch the sermon series again. Do this revision exercise with another fellow brother or sister in Christ. If you are in a discipleship group, do with your disciples, discuss every application, because the one sentence that has been repeated in every letter is this: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches, so let us all take heed of Jesus’ counsel, and live them out in our daily lives, God bless you.