The Lukewarm Church

Revelation 3:14-22

300 mile road trip, 8 hours driving time. Last of seven letters, in some ways strongest criticism of all. The author, the Lord Jesus, addressed each letter individually, using relevant connections between culture, history, and geography to make his message understandable. While some things were shared among the churches, the nature of Satan’s attack on each was unique. Although letters were indeed relevant to local churches of 1st century Asia Minor, they have application to the church throughout history.

It is important to note: in spite of problems or shortcomings present in each local church, the Lord Jesus still considered each one a true church. Threatened to remove Ephesus lampstand from its place but had not done so at time of writing. Addressed each one to “the angel of the church” signifying their present status, even though perhaps endangered.

What was Laodicea like?

Founded in mid-3rd century BC by Antiochus II and named for his wife, at time when LXX was being translated in Alexandria. Positioned as hub from which roads radiated out like spokes: main road from Ephesus at the coast to interior, another from Pergamos, at least two more met and passed through the city.

The Lycus Glen is double, containing a lower and an upper glen. Laodicea is the city of the lower glen, Colossae of the upper. Due north of Laodicea, between the Lycus and the Meander, stands Hierapolis, in a very conspicuous situation, on a shelf below the northern mountains and above the valley, with a cascade of gleaming white cliffs below it, topped by the buildings, still wonderfully well preserved, of the old city.Ramsay

Laodicea and Hierapolis both mentioned with Colosse as representing area where Epaphras had labored (Col. 4:13). Hierapolis, where apostle Philip spent last years of his life and was martyred AD 80. Prosperous and wealthy city, populated by Syrians, Romans, Greeks and Jews, was banking and exchange center, home to a famous medical school, noted for fabrics and clothing manufactured from native glossy black fleece. Involved in the export of “Phrygian stone” or “Phrygian powder”, soft stone powdered and mixed with oil as eye ointment, one of few effective treatment for several eye diseases.

Located on banks of Lycus river described as “turbid with white mud . . . nauseous and undrinkable.”

“Laodicea was near two other towns, each of which had a unique water source. To the north (6 miles) was Hierapolis which had a natural hot spring, often used for medicinal purposes. To the east (10 miles) was Colossae which had cold, pure waters. In contrast to these towns, Laodicea had no permanent supply of good water. Efforts to pipe water to the city from nearby springs were successful, but it would arrive lukewarm.”NET

Lack of suitable water believed to have limited growth of city, perhaps eventually leading to its demise. One of the least excavated and preserved of the 7 cities.

Jesus refers to these distinguishing characteristics in his rebuke to Laodicean church, one whose relationship with the culture had been turned on its head. Satan had persuaded Laodiceans that culture provided a right standard by which to make decisions, perhaps even preferable to traditional guidelines once followed by church. Cultural standard could be applied equally well to life both outside and inside church, personal and public.

A. Characteristics of Christv.14 theFirst and Last Word

Each letter begins with reference to chapter 1 vision of Christ, not only identifying the person of the author but also his role relationship with the church. Here in our text he is represented as the one who is:

The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. cf.Rev.1:11,17theFirst and Last Word

the Amen – Jesus is God’s final word, his is the word of certainty; faithful and true witness – his knowledge of men and witness before God is perfect, his knowledge of God and witness before men is perfect; originator (αρχη) of God’s creation – the one by/through whom all was created, the forerunner of the new creation.

Jesus’ point: seeJohn 14:6. He is the standard, the final arbiter, the only one with understanding, authority and power to undo effects of sin. He has the right answer because he knows the true need. He speaks with authority to a church in serious danger, seemingly the final warning and last opportunity to repent and continue as a true church. Just as we take the word of movie or restaurant or fashion critics, so this church should hear the word of the supreme moral critic, heed his words of criticism and correction.

B. Commendation– none

C. Criticismv.15-17

Lukewarm, neither cold nor hot. Wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. Indifferent

Assessment –Had become like the water supplying the city – tepid and bad-tasting (laced with calcium carbonate), offering little of value to anyone. Jesus not referring to temperature of spiritual zeal; rather making comparison to distinctives of nearby cities, Hierapolis and Colosse. Providing neither refreshment found in a cold mountain stream or therapeutic qualities of hot springs, was nearly worthless. Laodicean church had lost primary functions of being a church: offer satisfying drink to those thirsting for truth, apply healing balm to those wounded from life in a sin-corrupted world.

Symptoms –looked and acted just like everyone else. Standard of wealth matched the culture, was measured in terms recognized by banks and monetary exchanges. Had most or all comforts of cosmopolitan life, probably including commendation of co-workers and employers. Could imagine no area of life which could be improved, saw no need to seek improvement. Perhaps had been seduced into thinking that material prosperity equalled divine approval, because they were living on Easy Street, God must approve of their lives.

Placed primary value on things the culture valued – position, power, possessions – rather than what God and his Word define as having ultimate value. Result – church becomes, at worst, totally irrelevant (don’t offer anything of value to potential patrons or that cannot be found elsewhere on better terms), at best, another choice among many. Participation becomes consumer-oriented – where can I get what I need today, what will make me feel better – this church, that church, or….. perhaps something other than church.

Root Cause –How had Epaphras’ church come to this sad state? Had allowed the culture to shape the church rather than church shaping the culture. Which happens is dependent on:

the direction ideas flow

dealing with decisions of practical nature, who or what is consulted first? Is biblical principle established first, then discussion of ideas afterward? Do ideas and principles come primarily from Christians or non-Christians? Are final decisions measured against biblical principles before implementation and adjusted as necessary?

what standard is followed when there is conflict

competing ideas between culture and church, who wins? Issues of principle or moral values, not simple preference. Does Bible win regardless or are accommodations made to avoid loss of face, friends, support?

D. Instructionv.18-19

Buy from Christ refined gold, white clothes, and eye salve. Be earnest, and repent.

Return to the standard. The things that matter, that have true and lasting value, can only be found in Christ, not local bank: “Seek first the kingdom” (Matt. 6:33).

The garments that signify acceptance with God can only be procured from him – being clothed with Christ’s righteousness, not latest fashion: “not having my own righteousness, …but that which is through faith in Christ” (Phil. 3:9)

Ability to see true reality, recognize spiritual truth only possible with enabling of the Holy Spirit, not magical spectacles: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. (1 Cor. 2:9-10)

In order to participate in these blessings they needed two things: a change of mind (repentance) and rightly directed zeal (having Christ as its object). If they would but repent, Christ stood ready to supply all their need. That they even had this opportunity was due solely to his loving patience guiding his hand of correction.

E. Promisev.20-21

Overcomers will eat with Christ; will rule with Christ.

v.20 Figuratively, at least, Christ had been locked out of his church; his challenge is to those in the Laodicean church – if you want to continue being a true church, you need to let me back in and take my rightful place. If the believers (v.19, “as many as I love”) in the church made that choice, they would enjoy fellowship with Christ once again and all that means on a corporate level. If they refused, he would “spit them out of his mouth”, no longer relating to that congregation as a true church.

If the Laodiceans repented, brought Christ back to center in church doctrine and practice, he would fellowship with them in the ordinances, particularly the Lord’s Table. That ordinance symbolizes God’s covenant with his people, guaranteeing their future complete salvation. Christ reiterates the promise here: if he and we are in true fellowship (v.20) then since he gained victory over sin and death, we shall also (v.21).

May the Lord of the Church keep us from becoming complacent (trusting in our bank accounts, either physical or spiritual) and clueless about our true condition, writing us off as beyond hope. The best antidote is to stay close to Christ and far from sin and the world, something for which we must depend on his help.


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