Welcome to Laodecia! The modern church has fallen into this pattern that many dispensationalists call the Ages of the Church, with this church considered the last of the ages. Jesus cuts to the quick as He challenges this church. As we look at this passage, think of the church in general. Your local church may be an incredible example of a New Testament body of believers, but, the way that culture is invading the church and its institutions, we may not be that far away Let’s take a look at this through the lenses of Scripture. Revelation 3:15-22 says:
15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will [b]spit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 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 will dine with him, and he with Me. 21 He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame 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.’” (NASB)
This part of the Letter is to the Church of Laodecia, a wealthy community in the area of modern day Turkey and Syria. Laodecia was a Roman province, but its position along a very profitable trade route made it very self sufficient. The city was known for three things, wealth, textiles, and a very popular eye salve that was sold all over the world. An earthquake devastated the region in AD 60, and the city refused imperial assistance to rebuild, relying on their own resources instead. The city did not have a great water supply, which made it a vulnerability in a siege, but it did have a water source in the form of a 6 mile aqueduct from Hierapolis. This was a hot spring, so the water would arrive in an unappetizing lukewarm state. This aqueduct could easily be captured in a siege and all water cut off to the city, so leaders in Laodecia would often facilitate enemy requests and compromise instead of raise arms and fight. This is the thrust of the entire letter that Jesus sent to them.
First, Jesus says that the church is lukewarm. The church would understand this reference through its water supply. Nothing tastes as good after a long hot day of work as sitting down and enjoying a wonderful, tall glass of lukewarm water…..mmmmm mmmmm. The issue with lukewarmness is that it is too cold to be hot and too hot to be cold. It negotiates between the two. Jesus knew that the spiritual life of the church was the same way. They were too complacent in their wealth to see how very poor they were. Jesus directs his disapproval toward the church by attacking the very things they valued. Wealth, clothing, and eye slave. A lukewarm Christian needs nothing from God. They have the reliability of their church, their church needs nothing, it has the finest of everything. They have settled into a place where the enemies of the church could shake up the popularity of the place and cause their numbers and tithes to collapse. They are satisfied with the strange doctrines that the culture demands in the church and allow the wolves in to decimate the sheep. Their complacent, lazy faith hides the depth of their poverty. Jesus tells them to buy from Him Gold refined in fire. Purity comes to mind when I hear fire and gold. Jesus wants their wealth to be gained in their purity before Him as a church. Not sexual purity, in context, but rather purity of heart and determination to either be hot or cold, not commingling in the middle. True wealth is not found in money, but in knowing we are poor before Christ and relying on his riches of mercy to forgive us and save us.
Jesus then calls on the church to buy from Him garments of pure white to wear. This is an unblemished garment. White represents absolute cleanliness. The shame of their nakedness can be covered by the pure righteousness of the Christ. Their sins of complacency and compromise could be covered. This is a beautiful picture of the sin covering of the blood of the cross. Christ was sacrificed and shed blood so that His purity and righteousness would save us from Gods wrath in judgement. Then Jesus appeals to them to use salve provided to them so their blindness could be removed. This is clever, to use a metaphor of a world famous product from the city to show the church how blind they have been. Oh, how our churches are so blinded by the concerts, the self help preaching, the lights, the smoke, and the shallow relationships we have. We have been blinded as a church trying to draw in the crowds and not training the believers to be disciple makers.
Jesus makes another plea to the church. Here, it is Jesus standing outside of door of the church. He is knocking and asking who IN THE CHURCH, will open the door and actually fellowship with Him. This is such a terribly sad picture. While the church is singing, and celebrating, and having great fellowship inside, Jesus stands outside knocking on the door. The church has walked so far away from Him that they do see that He is not in the church. Jesus finally says that those that overcome will sit with Him on His throne. Overcome what? The complacent Christian life, the kind of Christian that would stand and fight against the fact that the church is running without Jesus inside of it. The Christian that stood on the purity and the riches of Jesus rather than their own self reliance. The Christian that determines to be either a hot drink that warms the cold hearted, or a cold drink that provides relief in the driest of times. Jesus is looking for those that have the ears to hear His warnings and His exhortation.