seven letters  laodicea part III

"So, because you are lukewarm-- neither hot nor cold-- I am about to spit you out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:16 NIV). 

As we talked about earlier, one of the problems facing the ancient city of Laodicea was the fact that it had no internal water supply of it's own. This meant that all of the water for the city's daily needs had to be brought in through a structure called an aqueduct from another local town named Heiropolis. 

Now the water that Heiropolis provided for the city of Laodicea was generally hot when it left due to the natural hot springs that existed there. However, this water gradually became lukewarm in temperature by the time it finished its six mile journey to Laodicea. In addition to the temperature change, this water also tended to pick up sediment, bacteria and who knows what else along the way. This meant that the water arriving from Heiropolis wasn't good for much of anything by time it got to Laodicea and Jesus used this as an all-too-accurate illustration of the Laodicean Christians' relationship with Him. 

These elements of hot and cold can also be used to describe different spiritual qualities that should exist in a Christian's relationship with Jesus too. For example, anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ should be someone who is warm and enthusiastic in their relationship with Him- that's the hot part. The cold part has to do with the fact that a Christian should also be cool and unresponsive towards the things of a world that isn't interested in God. However, a lukewarm, compromising Christian who is neither hot or cold is surely heading for serious trouble. You see, the people who drank the lukewarm water of Laodicea without boiling it first would become sick and vomit. The spiritual equivalent of this is seen in the verse quoted above where Jesus basically says that the lukewarm "Christianity" of the Laodiceans makes Him want to throw up. If you're a Christian, then you definitely don't want to follow that example.

"You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked" (Revelation 3:17 NIV). 

It's pretty shocking to see the huge difference in the way that the Laodicean church viewed itself and the way that Jesus viewed them. In fact, Jesus' opinion of the Christians in Laodicea was totally opposite from the opinion that they had of themselves. This demonstrates just how easy it can be for people to believe that they are OK spiritually when that really may not be the case at all. In fact, we can see this demonstrated today in the beliefs of someone who feels that they will go to heaven when they die because they went to church, participated in some ceremony, gave money to a charity or just because the "the good things that they've done will outweigh the bad things that they've done." The problem with those beliefs is that God's Word doesn't support any of them. You see, when it comes to beliefs like this, it's not about what we think- it's about what God thinks. And if what we think doesn't line up with what God thinks then we're sure to run into trouble, just like these people in Laodicea did.

So how can we explain the messed up view that the Laodiceans had of themselves? Well, the Scripture above tells us that it had to do with the fact that the people of Laodicea were very rich and independent. Now things like wealth and independence are certainly not wrong on their own but like with so many other things, a lot depends on how you use them. The main problem with the Christians in Laodicea was that they apparently forgot what Jesus told them in the Bible: "…apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). In some ways, the Christians in Laodicea were a reverse image of the Christian community in the city of Smyrna that we looked at earlier. For example, Jesus told the Christians in Smyrna, "I know about your suffering and your poverty – but you are rich!" (Revelation 2:9a NLT). Unfortunately, the Laodicean Christians had fooled themselves into thinking just the opposite- they thought that they were rich when they were really "... wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked." 

"I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see" (Revelation 3:18 NIV).

It's no accident that Jesus chose to use these three illustrations to help communicate His message to the people of Laodicea. Remember that Laodicea was a place that was known as a major financial center in the ancient world. It was also heavily involved the production of a distinctive black wool that was made from sheep that were specially developed for that purpose. Laodicea was also recognized as a leader in the medical field for its manufacture of a type of ointment that was useful in treating certain eye problems. This background information makes it easy to understand why Jesus used the illustrations that we see in the verse quoted above. 

For instance, the Laodiceans were the big time bankers of their day- they would understand Jesus' advice to buy refined gold from Him as an encouragement to stop trusting in their money and focus on the real eternal wealth that only He could give them. Instead of the black wool clothing that they produced, Jesus instead offered to provide them with white clothing, the symbol of purity and honor. In place of an eye medicine that would only help for a little while at best, Jesus was prepared to take away their blindness so they could really see. The good news for us is that Jesus is still ready to "sell" these things to anyone who is willing to buy them today!


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Except as indicated, all Scriptural references taken from The Living Bible, 1971, Tyndale House Publishers

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