Laodicea: The Worthless Church

December 5, 2023   /   Palms Baptist Church Bible Study

  • Laodicea is the chief city of a 10-mile, tri-city area of Colossae, Hierapolis, and Laodicea in the southern Phrygia region of Asia Minor
  • During Antiochus the Great in 213BC, over 2000 Jewish families moved here after King Cyrus of Persia made his declaration Jews could leave
    • Maintained a strong Jewish presence into the middle ages
  • Good possibility this was the city where Philemon and Onesimus were from

Economy

  • City was extremely wealthy with strong ties in its black wool/clothing, banking system, and medicinal solutions
    • Like all cities in Asia minor, there was a lot of seismic activity in the city
      • Earthquake in 17 AD, 47 AD, and the “Big One” in 60 AD

*Unlike the other cities like Sardis and Pergamum, Laodicea refused help from Rome and rebuilt bigger and better than before, every time as a demonstration of their wealth

  • City located where the Asopus and Caprus river entered the Lycus river
    • Greek historian Strabo linked the great wealth of Laodicea to the fertile soil due to its location among the rivers, which allowed for flocks to be greatly cared for
  • City developed a reputation as a place to conduct large business transactions and exchanges
  • Well known medical school, led by Alexander Philalethes who was believed to be a “pupil of aklepios” according to Strabo
    • Pergamum, home to Galen, which was also the medicinal Harvard of the area quotes frequently from Alexander Philalethes
    • Unlike Pergamum who had general medical prestige, Laodicea was primarily known for their specialty of the eye

*Laodicea was known for its eye salve it produced and sold across Rome (noted by Strabo, and Galen in “On Anatomical Procedures”).

  • Water Problems
    • Despite the location by three rivers, that water was undrinkable due to its high-mineral content
      • In 2015, an inscription was found on the Nymphaeum (a monument dedicated for the nymphs by the water springs) that recorded the water laws of the city
      • Laws included a one year salary fine if you damage the pipes, heavy fines if caught re-diverting water for irrigation, and a two year salary fine for officials who get caught allowing access to water without charge
    • Colossae had fresh, cold, and pure drinking water from the mountain falls and Heiropolis had medicinal hot springs, Laodicea had mineral rich water for irrigation, but not for drinking
      • Water had to be piped in from 10 miles away via an aqueduct, so by the time it reached the city, the water was “lukewarm,” still high in mineral content, and very unpleasant to drink

*The water was so unpleasant and mineral rich, it was known to cause nausea and vomiting

Religion

  • Very religious from its founding
    • Originally named Diospolis, or “City of Zeus”
    • Renamed Laodicea after Antiochus II Theos, in honor of his wife, Laodice
  • The medical school was tied to the temple of Men Tiamou, an ancient Phrygian deity that was the longest worshiped deity in the city, who in most cities had been adopted as the goddess serene.
    • Men/Serene were the moon god/goddess, but more so controlled the “months”
      • Mythology has Selene as a concubine for Zeus
    • Revelation 12:1 states the woman was “clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” This is direct descriptor in iconology to Serene in the “Homeric Hymn to Selene” also found the sibylline oracles
      • Selene/Men, represented as a crescent moon, was crowned with rays from the sun on a golden crown, and was in charge of the lunar months
      • Woman of Revelation 12 is clothed with the sun, has the moon (Selene/Men) under her feet, and a crown of 12 stars (lunar months?)
  • After Domitian became emperor, the city adopted emperor worship immediately
    • Within years of this letter being the delivered to the church, the bishop of the city, Sagaris, was executed for refusal to worship the emperor

Revelation 3:14-22

14 “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. 

  • Amen
    • Amen = certain, a statement of truth
  • Faithful and True witness
    • Remember Philadelphia? Same descriptor, but where Jesus uses it as an encouragement to an intellectually persecuted church, here He uses it as a convicting reminder of who He is
  • Ruler of God’s creation
    • The god, men/selene i.e. the “lunar god” of months acted as the “sustainer of creation” as the Greeks viewed reality in continuity across gods, nature, and men, and viewed time as cyclic in continuity with those elements
      • Thus, to control the lunar calendar controlled the sustained continuity of creation
    • Christ is saying that unlike their city’s patriarchal god of creation’s sustainment, He is the ruling sustainer of God’s creation

15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 

  • Jesus compares their faith and deeds to their water… you are not hot like Heirapolis’ water or cold like Colossae’s water, but your faith is a lukewarm composite that is useful for nothing. Even when consumed, its gross
    • This city had a high-self worth as well as in this church through enterprise and business, but as a church, they were worthless
    • Hot springs provided medicinal and relaxing replenishment. Cold water provides refreshment and quenching of thirst. This church was neither refreshing to a lost world or a source of replenishment for weary souls
  • “Spit you out of my mouth”
    • The Greek here is the word emeo, more literally meaning to vomit. Continued comparison to their water that was so bad it could make people vomit

*Essentially, Christ says your “Your deeds are worthless and your faith makes me want to vomit.”

Think of your own faith, does it replenish and refresh, or make Jesus want to vomit?

17 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. 

  • This says a lot about them. They think they “don’t need a thing” because they have acquired what they think really matters
  • The arrogance and pride within them also blinds them from this fact
  • Unlike previous churches, it seems this church’s idol or “god” was not necessarily a deity, rather their god was themselves enabled by the idols of money, health, and provision

*Unpopular statement: Essentially, this church accomplished the “American Dream,” and it made Jesus want to puke! The “American dream” is not “Jesus’ dream.” Which “dream” do you pursue?

18 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.

  • The problem with this church is the same problem and heart of Cain: they only give Christ “some” of their offering, but not what they think really matters
  • Jesus tells them to pursue Him the same way they pursue health, money, and self-dependence
    • Invest and deposit from my bank
    • Wear my white clothes (not your black clothes)
    • Buy my eye cream so you can see

19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 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.

  • I love how Jesus ALWAYS reaffirms His desire for sustained relationship and fellowship with everyone, even a church like this who is extremely offensive to Him
  • “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline”
    • Don’t be bothered when Jesus rebukes or disciplines you, it means:
      • He is still talking to you
      • He loves you
  • “I stand at the door and knock”
    • You see the tragedy in this statement? Why is Jesus on the outside of the Laodicean church knocking to be let in?
    • Somehow, Jesus had left this church and they didn’t even notice!!!
      • They were so self-sufficient, secure, and satisfied in their wealth they didn’t recognize Jesus left

*A question to ask is not whether you or your church is in God’s house, rather, is Christ in yours?

21 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. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

  • Apathetic Love
    • Mark 4:19-Desires for riches and other things choked the fruitfulness of this church
  • No humility
    • Church walked in pride, as they had the wealth, the medical solutions, and the means to cloth themselves richly
  • Self-reliance
    • Just as they depended on no one to rebuild the city, they depended on no one for their sanctification
  • Lukewarm = worthless
    • They did nothing to help advance the agenda of Christ’s gospel
    • Self-serving, self-focused,

 

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