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Nothing Good Shall Come of This [3-27-22]

This is the last letter from Jesus through John to seven churches that are part of a postal route in Asia Minor, or present-day Turkey. They are, in order of appearance:

  • Ephesus - Danger of losing their first love.

  • Smyrna - Fear of suffering.

  • Pergamum - Doctrinal compromise.

  • Thyatira - Moral compromise.

  • Sardis - Spiritual deadness.

  • Philadelphia - Needing to hold on.

  • Laodicea - Lukewarmness.

Four of these churches are so disappointing that they are threatened with judgment. Philadelphia and Smyrna contain not a single note of disapproval or reproach. Laodicea has the grim distinction of being the church to which Jesus has nothing good at all, whatsoever, to say. They are a false church.

First, let's get the lay of the land.

Laodicea was nestled in a valley at the juncture of two important trade routes. The surrounding fertile ground provided good grazing for sheep. In fact, they produced a glossy black wool that was in demand throughout the Roman Empire. That, and the prime location of the two imperial trade routes, brought great prosperity to Laodicea. Agricultural and commercial prosperity brought widespread banking business, as well. In fact, they were so prosperous, when most of Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 60, they didn't need any help from Rome to rebuild.

Beyond agriculture, commerce, and banking, Laodicea was also widely known for its medical school. One of its best known contributions was an eye-salve. We'll hear more about that later.

Laodicea's major geographical weakness was lack of a clean and convenient source of water. Their water had to be brought in from springs six miles away through a system of stone pipes about three feet in diameter. Things got a bit dicey during dry season. We'll see how their

irrigation system plays into one of the judgments against the church.

As far as the church goes, we know it was founded during Paul's time at

Ephesus during his third missionary journey. Two passages speak to this:

  • Acts 19:10 - "This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks."

  • Colossians 4:12-16 - "Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea."

Let's hear what the Lord has to say to Laodicea:

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.

I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were

either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 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. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 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. 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. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

There's lots to unravel here, a key piece which I've slightly misunderstood over the years.

Let's start with the profound statement of the person and nature of Jesus

Christ. The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning

of God's creation.

What does "the Amen" mean?

"Amen" is primarily the affirmation of that which is valid and binding. It indicates perfect conformity to what is real and true and right. In other words, Amen illustrates the trustworthiness of Christ in sharp contrast to the unfaithfulness of the Laodicean church. Jesus is the firm, fixed, certain, faithful, unchangeable Amen. That's how you address a church that knows nothing of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He is true all the time, every time, everywhere, in every way. His promises are true. What he did on the cross is true. Jesus Christ is the Amen to God's promises. He is the Amen to our salvation.

Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 1:20:

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.

Those are the essentials of the faith the Laodiceans are clueless about.

They have either willfully or ignorantly rejected the foundational truths of

the Christian faith. Either way, not a good thing at all.

What this all boils down to is that Jesus Christ is the everything of God. All that God is, Jesus is. Here's why this is important. Laodicea was ten miles from Colossae. Only ten miles away. And what plagued Colossae probably drifted over to Laodicea. Here's what Paul writes in Colossians 1:15-20:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Clearly, heresy had infiltrated Colossae. You deny the deity of Christ, you reduce his sacrifice on the cross down to nothing. Meaningless. They were chipping away at essentials of the gospel. And so, Paul had to nip it in the bud. Cut it out before it had a chance to take root and grow. That's why Paul advised, in 4:16, "And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea."

Let's watch this together:

You see, in six of the letters in the Revelation to John, we hear of all kinds of struggles or compromises or shortcomings or sins in those churches. But there were still some in each of those churches holding fast to the gospel. In spite of their shortcomings, none of those six churches were lost causes. In most cases, they simply needed to flush out false teachers or turn away from dysfunctional leaders. There was hope for them.

But here, at Laodicea, there is no hope. They have offended Jesus. And

when you deny the essentials of the Christian faith, offending Jesus, you

really are not a church.

Years ago, there was a decent size mainline Protestant church in St. Paul,

Minnesota. In his Easter sermon one year, the preaching pastor declared that there was no bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. I wish I was making that up. In his Easter sermon, when many people would be in church for the first time. In worship. On Easter morning. He said that.

His points were all too familiar to me. In seminary, I was exposed to the teaching of people like Rudolph Bultmann. Bultmann was a German theologian and Bible scholar. He took a very skeptical approach to the New Testament, deconstructing and demythologizing its essential teachings. I learned not to like most of what he taught.

Bultmann would have fit in well at Laodicea, and he would have applauded that Easter sermon from the pastor in St. Paul {irony - given the name of the city it took place in}.

Eta Linnemann was a Protestant theologian who studied under Bultmann.

Then, in 1977, at the age of 51, Linnemann had a profound conversion experience. She renounced the heretical elements of her teachings, asking readers to destroy her previous publications. Here was a Christ-denying, Scripture-denying liberal scholar who, by the grace of God, became part of the true church of Jesus Christ.

There is hope in the transformational power of Jesus Christ. Will we see it in Laodicea?

Let's wrap things up with verses 15 and 16:

I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

The meaning is not so simple as something so disgusting that it makes one physically ill, to the point of vomiting. That's a gross image. Nobody likes the idea of throwing up. That's all I'm going to say about that.

Here is what the people of Laodicea would understand.

A city near Laodicea was famous for its hot springs. They served a soothing, therapeutic purpose. The mineral-laden water of these hot springs would eventually cascade over the edge of a plateau, cooling in the

process. The waters were only useful at their point of origin.

In another direction, as we've already seen, stood the city of Colossae, and its cold, pure waters. They brought refreshment to all.

One last water fact. The water Laodicea had to pipe water in from six miles away was of such poor quality that it would eventually muck up the pipes. All the impurities would affect the flow and quality of the water.

So, back to vomit. They knew of cold, refreshing water. They knew of hot, bubbling, therapeutic water, and they knew the plateau over which the cooling waters from the hot springs were eventually spit. Vomited, so to speak. The hearers of this letter knew of such things. They were neither refreshing nor soothing. It was all too clear that their church was full of people who had a wrong view of Christ. They were unconverted. They were obnoxious to heaven. As Jesus said, "You nauseate me." He said, "I know your works." And there was nothing good. Their very existence was like syrup of ipecac to him. That is never a good thing.

We'll end here. Next week, we'll look at the only way out of their miserable, unbelieving mess. It's alluded to in verse 19:

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

This idea of divine discipline runs throughout Scripture. To get us moving in that direction, here's something you might want to write down and remember for next week:


- William Barclay

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