Revelation 3:14-22

We have looked at the letters to six other churches and discussed how they apply, not only generally to the entire church today, but how each of letter can apply to us and to our own, daily relationship with the Lord. Some theologians apply each letter to a different time period during the "Church Age", whilst others consider them only in relation to the churches to which they were written. However, if we follow either of those courses, we miss the point of these letters being written and included in the bible, under the direction of the Holy Spirit. As Paul states in his letter to Timothy:

The whole bible was given to us by inspiration from God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realise what is wrong in our lives; it straightens us out and helps us do what is right. It is God's way of making us well prepared at every point, fully equipped to do good to everyone,” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 - "The Living Bible" version)

These letters to the churches were written to warn us of many things, but one of the most important is that people during the last days will act immorally, wholly from self-interest without God's interests at heart and will seek to use the church as a stepping stone to their own, human aspirations. (1 Timothy 4:1-5)

The city of Laodicea

About forty miles south-east of Philadelphia, three famous cities clustered in the valley of the river Lycus. North of the river was Hierapolis and, on the southern side, about ten miles apart, Laodicea and Colossae. The last two are ruins today, with Laodicea gradually being excavated as an archeological site, but Colossae merely a large mound, covered in grass. Nearby today sits the modern town of Denizli. At the end of the first century, Laodicea was the wealthiest city in Phrygia. It prospered under the Romans, who allowed its trade to expand. It was widely known for its banking establishments, a medical school that produced a world-renowned eye ointment and its woollen textile industry with distinctive black wool from local sheep.

Water for the city was brought through an aquaduct from Hierapolis which was blessed with hot springs. (These day, many tourists flock to the hot springs and pools at the modern town of "Pamukkale", whose name means "cotton castle" to describe the calcium deposits left by the springs.) However, by the time the water had travelled the six miles or so to Laodicea, it was no longer hot - merely warm. Interestingly, the nearby town of Colossae was fed by a cold water spring - very refreshing during the hot summer days!

One true God, ruler of all

These are the words of the "Amen", the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation.” (Revelation 3:14)

Jesus was, in theory, the head of the church in Laodicea. His first words, forming the introduction to the letter, are precise and still challenging to us today. He knew exactly the state of this church. The "Amen" indicates to us that He is the one, true God. There is no other God but "Jehovah", the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is all-powerful, true and trustworthy. He is the "Alpha" and the "Omega" - the beginning and the end. He is the faithful and true witness, the only one who is to be believed. He will neither dilute nor distort the truth, because He is the author of truth and its very personification, whereas Satan is a liar. There is not an iota of truth in him. When he lies, it is perfectly normal for he is the father of liars. (John 8:44)

When Jesus says something to us, He speaks the truth and, if we accept it, it will operate in our lives for our good. He sees through the shallowness in our lives and His eyes penetrate the disguises and veils we try to hide behind. When Jesus dictated this letter to the church at Laodicea, He had only their good at heart. He loved those people just as He loves us today. He has provided the environment in which each of us can thrive, but it is our own choice as to whether or not we will accept His provision for us. (2 Peter 3:8-10) If we do not respond to God’s call, or if we compromise His word or dabble in other practices, the prophet, Isaiah, warns us that He will reject us. (Isaiah 65:11-16)

Jesus is also the ruler of God’s creation. The word "ruler" can mean both "first in point of time" (the beginning) or "first in rank" (ruler). He is, therefore, both the origin and ruler of all creation. He was the executive creator of the universe. (John 1:1-5) We tend to forget that Jesus knows all that we do and think, even the hidden intentions of our hearts. (Psalm 139:3-4) So, when He wrote to the Laodiceans, He did so because He had their best interests at heart. He loved them and wanted them to change their ways. There was so much for them to achieve in their lives, so many people’s lives that these Laodiceans could have changed, if only they would have listened! (Revelation 3:15-16)

Hot or cold?

The church in Laodicea, like the church in Sardis, was wealthy and self-sufficient. Consequently, it was doing very little in practical terms, happy and content in its warm, comfort blanket. The believers had become as bland as the tepid water that supplied their city. But lukewarm water makes for a disgusting drink and Jesus uses it as a picture to describe His disgust for the church: "I am about to spit you out of my mouth!" (Revelation 3:16) The believers didn't take a stand for anything and their indifference led to idleness. By neglecting to do anything for Christ, they were gradually destroying themselves.

Let's not settle for following God half-heartedly! This is not God’s plan for our life. Jesus said that He came to give us life and life in all its fullness. (John 10:10) Let's allow Jesus to fire up our faith and get us into the midst of His action. Jesus would rather that we were either hot or cold. In either case, He can work with us. If we are hot (passionate) in terms of the good news about Christ, Jesus can send us to any person or to any place and we will have an immediate effect. It is His will that none shall perish and we can never outdo Him for passion when it comes to saving those who are lost! (Matthew 18:14) Equally, if we are cold - even opposed to Jesus - He is more than willing to take up the challenge.

A missionary went from Blackburn, Lancashire, to India to reach people for the Lord. He worked hard and preached the word of God everywhere he went but, apparently, to no avail. The people seemed cold and unresponsive. However, just as he was about to give up and return home, one man listened to what he was saying and decided to put it into practice. He found that it worked. Jesus was real! So, the man gathered others around him and passed on to them what he had been told. Before long, a small church was born in that place. Today, that small church has grown and has produced over eight thousand more churches across the sub-continent. The man’s sons, David and Peter Prakasam, are now leader of the "Indian Pentecostal Assemblies", based in Coimbatore. Some of the pastors of those churches have no outside support. They walk and cycle for miles each day to keep in touch with their fellow believers, many of whom do not even own a bible, encouraging them and teaching them from the word of God. What an incredibly fulfilling way of life!

It was to a simple, but exciting and fulfilling way of life like this, that Jesus called the Laodiceans, but His calling fell on deaf ears. The comforts and pleasures of this world choked them and deprived them of the full life that they could have lived. What about us? How do we measure up to the challenge that Jesus has given us? He doesn't call us all to do the same thing. We have all been called according to our individual gifts and abilities and we each have our own specific responsibilities, but let's not make them an excuse not to be involved as we should in the work to which we have been called. (Philippians 3:13-15)

What is our focus?

What had caused the Laodiceans to sink to this level? It seems they were sucked into the environment in which they lived. They wanted to be like those around them who had nothing to do with Jesus. Laodicea was a centre for banking and finance; it had a vibrant textile industry and produced a revolutionary treatment for eye disease. The people there were well off, well clothed and in good health. But Jesus says that, in spiritual terms, they were "wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked"!

We, too, live in a time when money is very important to people. Jesus never said that money is the root of all evil, but the apostle, Paul, warned that love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. (1 Timothy 6:10) Similarly, clothing, fashion and the cultivation of self-image can become a snare for many. (1 Peter 3:3-4) Another obsession of our day and age is health and fitness, but the Bible teaches that physical health comes from spiritual stability. (Proverbs 3:7-8; 1 Timothy 4:8)

It is hard to find a stronger or more expressive term of revulsion anywhere in the New Testament than Jesus wanting to spit out the Laodiceans. He put His finger precisely on their problem. They had lost God’s perspective on the world, allowing themselves to be lulled into a false sense of security and marked by compromise. They wanted the best of both worlds, as often happens to us today. The world can – and does – change and what then becomes of our priorities? Where then do we turn for our security? If we were to lose everything, on whom could we rely? Would we remember the word of God? Jesus told the story about a wealthy farmer who was obsessed with making ever more money and, after having a bumper harvest, said: “I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones.” God’s response was: "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21)

The solution

The church needed a restoration of spiritual values. Jesus said that they needed refined gold - not literal gold but spiritual work that stands the test of God's judgment. This gold would be something with which to build for eternity. Paul reminds us to build with care, as the only foundation is Jesus Christ. We have to use gold, silver and costly stones, because the quality of our work will be shown for what it is when it is refined by the fire of God's judgment. Only what has been built with Jesus’ gold will survive and the builder will receive a reward. Clearly, this gold is something to be coveted and sought after. Surely we should do whatever we can to "buy" this gold from Jesus. Of course, we cannot "buy" it with literal money; it can only be purchased through repentance and yielding ourselves to the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 3:12-13)

The believers needed white clothes to wear - not the predominantly black clothing produced locally. (Revelation 3:4-5) The meaning of white clothes is simple: they represent salvation. These are the garments in which we will be presented before Jesus. The purity of white illustrates what He has done in redeeming us through His death. The white garments entirely cover our shameful sin, replacing it with the glorious righteousness of Jesus Himself.

Finally, they needed salve from Jesus to give them true, spiritual sight. (John 9:6-7) The Laodiceans’ vision had become murky and they could not see that they needed a restoration of spiritual vision. As Christians, they had allowed the ways of the world to encroach on their lives. Their focus had shifted from Christ the Redeemer to the Liar. They were familiar with their own, world-renowned ointment, but Jesus said that they should buy ointment from Him to put on their spiritual eyes. Their earthly eyes could be looked after with earthly medicine, but their spiritual eyes required spiritual medicine. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18) God wants to give us a vision of heaven and hell, to restore our sight. Where were they to obtain that sort of salve? From the same place that we can obtain it: from the word of God – Jesus Himself!

Where are our priorities?

Following Jesus inevitably involves making a basic choice: Him or us? To the rich young ruler, Jesus said this: "'If you want to be perfect, go and sell everything you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.' But when the young man heard this, he went away sadly, for he was very rich". (Matthew 19:16-22 - "The Living Bible" version) Jesus gave him ample opportunity to realign his priorities but, for the rich young ruler, this was the saddest day of his life. Jesus offered him the most exciting future that could be and He offers the same to us. For the rich young ruler, his attachment to possessions was his sticking point. He could go no further because of them. What is our sticking point? It might not be possessions, but what about our family?

When we face up to this choice and recognise that the smallest thing He offers is greater than our greatest human desire, then we are in possession of the key to an exceptional future followed by glory in eternity. Many people think that, as Christians, they will live for ever in perfect peace, but Jesus said to the Laodiceans (and we need to remember that it applies to us as well: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.” (Revelation 3:19)

Zeal [the fervour of love] for your house will consume me.” (John 2:17 - English Standard Version)

Jesus was and is zealous for His church. He wants to be involved in it at every turn, He is its head. He rebukes us because He loves us. He wants us to become more like Him and the only way that can happen is for us to remain in His love, which involves the occasional rebuke. The purpose of such discipline is to draw us back to repentance. This is never easy, especially when it comes because we want to go our own way, but Jesus encourages us to be earnest in our repentance – to be serious about it. It involves forsaking the things on which we have set our selfish and foolish human desires and, instead, going God’s way. His way is higher and much better.

Behold, I stand at the door

He writes to the church at Laodicea, saying: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

Surely it is with deep sorrow that He finds Himself excluded from the thing that is dearest to His heart: His church. He is pleading with individuals to give Him His rightful place. This verse is often used to picture a person (who is not yet a Christian) locked in at home, with a handle only on the inside. Jesus is standing outside, knocking on the door to gain entry. (It takes the passage right out of context but, often, with amazing effect. It would be hard to number those who have given their lives to Jesus as a result of this verse.) But, its real purpose in the proper context, is to explain that Jesus has been excluded from His rightful position as head of His church – His body!

Holman Hunt’s picture clearly depicts this verse, showing Christ as "The light of the world", wearing a crown of thorns and standing outside the door of someone’s heart, bolted fast against Him, but patiently knocking and calling for admission. It illustrates the door with no handle on the outside, showing that it is up to the person on the inside to open the door to Christ. If you are one of those to whom Jesus is speaking through this verse, then do take this opportunity to put your life right. Open the door of your heart to Jesus and let Him come in. Allow Him to take over the places from which He has so far been excluded and make Him Lord. Welcome Him! Allow Him to realign your desires with His and walk with Him for the rest of your days, serving Him and following Him to the end of time. You will never, ever regret it! Jesus promises that, if we open our hearts to Him, He will open heaven to us.

Those who are victorious

Again, the last words are to the "overcomers" in the Laodicean church: “I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on His throne.” (Revelation 3:21) We need to be aware that this type of overcoming is not without cost, but it is a price that is well worth paying, for it pays both temporal and eternal dividends. Are we willing to pay it? Consider what Jesus said: "I tell you the truth. At the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But, many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first.” (Matthew 19:28-30)

We have to be very cold towards Jesus not to respond to the offer to sit on His throne and to obey Him as He directs our lives, when we have that as our reward!

The real question that we need to ask ourselves, as we read and analyse this comparatively small letter, is this: "Do we hear what the Spirit is saying to the church of which we are a member?" (Revelation 3:22) Jesus is saying this to each and every individual member of each and every church, no matter where they are or what state the church is in. If we overcome the obstacles that Satan places in our way and keep our zeal for His body burning through the power of the Holy Spirit then, at the end of our lives, we shall sit with Jesus on His throne and it will have been entirely and completely worthwhile. The alternative is to stay lukewarm like those in the church at Laodicea. To be spat out of the mouth of Jesus would be an horrific ending to a life so full of potential.

Click on the button below to load the QUESTIONS for this study in a new browser tab. You can opt to print the question sheet or simply follow the questions and write down your answers in a notebook or a separate file on a computing device, such as a laptop or mobile 'phone.