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All but one of the messages to the churches of Asia, mentioned in Revelations, are practical. The exception is the church of Laodicea, known as the “lukewarm church.” Laodicea, now called Pankkale, was located on the south bank of the River Lycus. It was approximately 100 feet above the valley floor on a flat plateau. Today it is located in Turkey. Laodicea was in a triangle of cities along with Colossae (southeast) and Hierapolis (northeast). It was founded by the Greek king Antiochus II (261-246 BC) of Syria, who named it for his wife, Laodike. Antiochus II populated Laodicea with Syrians and Jews from Babylonia. Laodicea suffered repeated earthquakes. In 60 AD, the city was completely destroyed. Because of the wealth of the city, it was rebuilt without any relief aid. The city was able to recover by its own resources.

Laodicea was a wealthy city during the Roman period. It was known for banking, a medical school, textile industry (black wool), and famous eye and ear salve. Laodicea had been built for its defensive position overlooking the road system. It was located where three highways came together. This trade route connected important cities like Ephesus, Smyrna and Sardis. Laodicea even minted its own coinage. Its only major weakness was lack of an adequate water supply. Citizens were prideful of their wealth.

The Laodicean church was in danger of losing its impact on the world. It had become occupied with the world by leaving God outside of its culture. Laodicea was ineffective. The issue pointed out in Revelations is that if a church is not changing the culture around it, the culture will change the church. In contrast , the cities of Hierapolis offered its medicinal hot springs. Colossae offered a refreshing supply of cold water. Laodicea, had to bring its water through high-pressure stone pipes from hot springs five miles away. By the time it reached Laodicea the water was lukewarm and had a nauseating smell of minerals.

(Revelations 3:14-22) 1 – “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 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. 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. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 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 that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

The Book of Revelation was written during the Roman emperor Domitian’s reign (r. 81–96 AD). Domitian was notorious for being the first Roman emperor to declare himself a god while still alive. This troubled Christians, Jews and even the Roman Senate. Other emperors were made gods only after their death. Domitian persecuted anyone who would not take part in the worship of emperors and their families. Although Jews were exempt from participating, Christians were not. At first, Christianity was considered a sect within Judaism. This gave Christians a temporary exemption from emperor worship. As more Gentiles (non-Jews) converted to Christianity, the percentage of Jewish people in the Christian Church decreased. This resulted in the removal of any exemptions or special status about emperor worship. The church had to comply or face the loss of its followers.

The Christians at Laodicea were affected by Domitian’s decrees. This harmed their ability to buy and sell products and services in their city. The image of the beast mentioned in Revelation refers to the emperor. He was the beast! Christians in Laodicea could no longer buy or sell unless they had taken the mark of the beast. In other words, “accepted the godly status of Domitian.

(Revelation 13:15-17) – “The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. “

The pressure on the rich Christians to maintain their wealth was intense. Since a great deal of Laodicea’s wealth depended upon trade, the Christian merchants were in a quandary. Would they cooperate with the imperial cult and maintain their trade associations? Would they renounce Domitian and reaffirm their faith in Christ? Many of the Laodicean Christians chose to compromise their faith. The writer of the apocalypse could say, “I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16). The New King James Version translations uses the word “vomit.”  Under pressure from society and their Roman king, they changed their beliefs. It is no different than today’s churches accommodating worldly pressures against their traditional doctrine.

Today, we live in a time blessed by prosperity and freedom. Yet, the Church seems almost dead. The Church has ceased to have any major impact on large segments of society. Atheism and humanism have taken over. Government and public policy are being governed by philosophies that are antibiblical. At times, they even seem intolerant of the Truths within Scripture. Pulpits remain silent with respect to politics and trending morality so as not to alienate members. Pulpits are “lukewarm.” When was the last sermon you heard that addressed the 2,362+ abortions that occur daily in the United States? 2

What is the problem? Is it that people cannot deal with prosperity? With freedom and prosperity come the temptation to trust in our worldly blessings rather than to trust in the One who has provided them. When people have plenty, they need nothing. The problem is that a prosperous humanity is putting their faith in the wrong things. Christ told us to do the opposite, to lay up treasures in heaven.

(1 Tim 6:17-19) – “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

The mission of Christ’s Church is to teach those who are “rich in this present world” not to be comfortable or to fix their hope on the pleasures of this world. It will be God who provides us with all things to enjoy both now and in eternal life. To be lukewarm is to adapt to the world rather than become an agent who transforms the world. We are the wealthiest nation in the world with more churches, more Bibles, Christian literature, and Christian schools than any other nation in the world. Yet, we are losing the battle.

Why isn’t the church more effective in the world today? Is the problem with the world? Is the world to too stubborn and too blind to listen? Or could part of the problem be with us? Have we, because of materialism, political correctness, excluded the Savior from our lives? Can we no longer see that our vision must be His vision, His character our character? The Lord Himself comments within Revelation: Christ is warning the church at Laodicea, not condemning it. Christ is  giving us instructions. Christ says that trusting material wealth, worldly opinion, rather than pursuing a personal relationship with Christ is dangerous.

Other churches throughout the Roman Empire responded differently. For example, the Christians at Smyrna are applauded in the Book of Revelation for maintaining their faith despite extreme difficulty. They refused to take part in the imperial cult even though this meant affliction and poverty for them.

(Revelation 2:9) – “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan.”

Our government, the media, and even our educational system impact the thinking of so much of America. They are, for the most part, intolerant of Christianity’s point of view. Leadership in both Europe and the U.S. are working for a single world government. All this is being done while the people of the world are preoccupied with comfort and pleasure, the good life. The moral climate or condition of both Europe and the U.S. is no better than the smelly water of Laodicea. According to recent polls, the values, priorities, practices, and pursuits of professing Christians and non-Christians alike, are similar. We have become lukewarm.

The Laodicean church’s “lukewarm” legacy was not its final legacy. The church survived Domitian’s reign. The city became the seat of a Christian bishop. Later in the 4th century, a Christian council was held there. Archaeologists have discovered about 20 ancient Christian chapels and churches at the site. Christ loves His Church. Our lesson is to stick to the original mission!

(Matthew 28:18-19) – “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,’”

Contemplations

  • When was the last time that you heard a pulpit message about how your choices for political leadership could impact your freedom of religion? Could save your country?
    • Ideas to Explore: Is a safe message always the best message? Are there political choices that enhance or inhibit religious freedom? What about abortion as population control? Are our children being given anti-Christian messaging through our educational system?
  • Are you concerned over controversy?
    • Ideas to Explore: Christ was “controversy.” Do controversies like political discourse, LGBTQIA, illegal immigrations, voting laws all upset you?  Christ upset everyone. He gave a message of “right and wrong.” There was not a middle ground, a “lukewarm” response that ever made Christ happy.  Where do you struggle with your choices and feelings?
  • When was the last time that you heard a pastoral message that offended someone? 
    • Ideas to Explore: Does pointing out sin offend? Can we be “lukewarm” and still serve Christ?
  • Why do we put our pastors under such pressure as to force decisions on messaging that does not offend?
    • Ideas to Explore: Is the pastor’s role to expose, to save or to include, to just minister? Does ministering to the “flock” mean always be kind and gentle? Does being “kind” mean avoiding instructions on God’s Truth?
  • How do we keep a church from becoming Lukewarm?
    • Ideas to Explore: What is it within a church that inhibits honesty? Can a church serve both the world and God? 

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
  2. https://www.all.org/learn/abortion/abortion-statistics/
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