Study Notes/Outline: Revelation 3:14-22 (The Church in Laodicea)
Updated: Nov 3
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14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
15 “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so 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 eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered 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.’ ”
· Is there any significance to Jesus’ titles at the beginning of the letter to Laodicea, “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation” (Rev 3:14)?
Some commentators see echoes of Isaiah 65 and 43 in this passage. Others see Proverbs 8 (the wisdom that accompanied God when he created the world). I don’t see either of those things, but I do see Jesus, the one who is willing to give the Laodiceans a faithful and true assessment of where they’re at, just like he has for the other six churches. Every one of the titles Jesus gives at the beginning of each address has something to do with the address itself. In this case, I believe the Lord was preparing the Laodicean’s for some tough words he was about to give them. But he wanted them to be sure that his evaluation of them, his witness, was right on. He is always faithful a true.
The beginning of God’s creation? Orthodox Christology does not refer to Jesus as “creation,” but does refer to him as “eternally begotten.” The Greek word arche (ἀρχή) means beginning or ruler. I think this verse clearly is echoing back to Revelation 1:5: “and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” He is the ruler of creation or the beginning or new creation.
If I were talking to a Jehovah’s Witness who said “well see, Jesus is the beginning of creation which means he’s created, he’s a creature… he’s clearly not God!” I would respond, “even if that point were granted, which I do not believe this verse teaches at all, you’re still freely admitting that Jesus preexists everything else that was created. The beginning of God’s creation (again, I believe “ruler of God’s creation is a much more fitting translation) means that Jesus pre-dates everything else created. The problem? He wasn’t born until around the year 3 B.C. So, which is it? Was he created first, before everything else? Did he come into existence in 3 B.C.? Or is he eternally begotten?
· Why on earth is being cold better than being lukewarm?
First, being lukewarm is an insult to the cross. Either be for the cross or against it, but don’t be indifferent to it. Second, lukewarmness is evidence that the Laodiceans were ho-hum, dispassionate, half-hearted Christians. When churches are red hot, people are never indifferent to them. There is a church in Moscow, Idaho right now that is stirring up all sorts of water (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3_CfL_RiL0). When churches really make an impact people either love them or hate them, they’re either strongly for or against them. Lukewarm churches? Nobody cares. That’s why it's easier to go from being cold to hot than it is from being lukewarm to hot. Indifference can be very difficult to cure.
But, there is also another very practical reason why Jesus used this analogy on the Laodicean Church…
· What does it mean for Jesus to “spit you out of his mouth” (v.16)?
Many people don’t know that, while Laodicea was a hugely prosperous city, they lacked their own water supply. They were unable to access either the cold mountain water nearby (like Colossae) or the hot ground water of Hierapolis, just 6 miles away (that city was built over hot springs). Laodicea had no natural water resources, so they piped their water in from springs just a little closer than Hierapolis. The problem? By the time the water made it to Laodicea, it was tepid and thus, not good at all. Vomit-worthy is how it is referred to in ancient sources.
So, rather than being water that is useful for bathing/cleaning/cleansing like hot water, or water that is refreshing to drink like cold water, the Laodiceans had become like the water they always complained about: disgusting. That’s how Jesus felt about their Christian witness to the world around them and their evolvement into mature Christian disciples.
· Does Jesus give any indication as to what made them lukewarm?
Yes! “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (3:17). The members of this church were clearly suffering from stagnation. Worse yet, they put their hope, trust, and confidence into the fact that they had all that they could ever need stored up for themselves! This echoes The Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21). As many verses as there are in Scripture that indicate God’s abundance, provision, ability to give wealth, etc., there are just as many that warn against the negative effects of storing up wealth. Especially Christians doing so.
To name a few:
1. Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21)
2. Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:19-34)
3. 1 Timothy 6:3-19 (this passage really touches on the importance of Christians being charitable with their resources and “rich in good works”!)
The Laodiceans thought that because they had all they could ever need materially, that made them rich. Jesus comes along and essentially says, “you lack true riches.”
· So, what is Jesus’ solution for the Church at Laodicea?
“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen” (3:18).
Gold refined (good works ↓) and white garments (holiness ↓).
Jesus’ solution is to *buy* from him gold refined by fire, a metaphor for good works that will stand the test of time and earn them eternal rewards (see 1 Corinthians 3:12-15), and white garments to clothe themselves so that the shame of their nakedness may not be seen (this “shame of your nakedness” language is meant to take our minds all the way back to the Garden of Eden. It is the image of people who are back under the shame of sin, like Adam and Eve after they disobeyed and suddenly “knew that they were naked”). White garments represent purity and holiness. Jesus wants them to trade their riches for holiness. To grow in sanctification. Holiness is much more valuable to God than earthly riches. He can simply do more with a person who is holy than a person who is rich.
And now, one of the most important statements in the letter…
Rev 3:19 – “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.”
Jesus does an amazing thing here. He reminds them that reproof is being given because he loves them. This is one of the hardest things for believers to remember. God reproves those he loves. If he didn’t care, he wouldn’t waste his time. It’s sort of like being lukewarm and indifferent. If God were lukewarm toward you, he wouldn’t take the time to reprove you! But his love for you is white-hot, just like Jesus’ love for the Laodiceans. He wanted them whole, complete, able to stand before him at the judgment and receive a worthy verdict. So, he’s come to set them right; how they respond will determine everything.
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 eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered 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.’”
· Last thing that Jesus says to the Church at Laodicea: I am waiting to come into you. I desire to come in and sit with you and share a meal with you. Are you ready to receive me?
Jesus wants to live moment by moment, day by day with his people. With his disciples. In fact, I am convinced that what he wants more than anything else is for us to be so aware of our union with him and of the presence of God in our lives that it transforms everything we do.
Also, this isn’t just a glimpse forward to the time when we will all partake in the marriage supper of the lamb (Revelation 19:6-9), it’s an invitation to “eat” with him, to do life with him, right now, today. Are you experiencing, are you looking for, are you inviting the presence of God into your life? Are you wanting to walk with him day by day? Are you pursuing intimate fellowship with him? Or is life just too busy for you to actually slow down and seek out the intimate, authentic fellowship with God that the Word promises to those who are his?
The 3 Questions that Test for Lukewarmness:
· Are you putting the majority of your time into this life or the next one? (This doesn’t mean that work and career are bad.) But do you see work as a mission field? Are you only pursuing treasure that will corrupt and fade away like gold and silver? Or are you mainly pursuing treasure that will last forever, like good works and holiness?
· Are you humble to the Lord’s reproof? Or do you get offended when you feel convicted by Him? Do you recognize his reproof?
· Are you actively pursuing and aware of the presence of God in your life? Do you live like he’s with you? Or like you’re all alone? Do you take time to seek him daily?