In 1577, British explorer, Martin Frobisher, made his second voyage across the ocean to the New World, landing in Canada. While there he discovered what he thought was gold. After mining 200 tons of the gold ore, he placed them on his ships and returned England. The initial assessment of his discovery was positive. He made a third journey across the ocean. This time he brought back 1,300 tons of the gold ore. However, after years of smelting, it was realized that what he had discovered was not gold. Rather, it was iron pyrite, and was only good for starting fires, by hitting a rock against it, causing a spark. What he thought was gold was actually a type of “flint.” Frobisher’s discovery became known as “fool’s gold,” something that has the appearance of value, but in reality, is worthless. Now, however, pyrite is used in lithium batteries. Who’s the fool now?The Church at Laodicea
The last of the seven churches in Revelation is the church in Laodicea, located forty-three miles south-east of Philadelphia. Instead of saving the best for last, John’s revelation saves the worst for last. The church in Laodicea had everything going for it. It could have been a great church, but instead, it had become comfortable and self-deceived. There is an old saying that goes, “Some people you have to pay to be good. Others are good for nothing.” As we shall see, even though the church in Laodicea thought they were good, Jesus tells them they had become good for nothing.
The key to understand the letter to the church in Laodicea is understanding something about the city itself. Almost everything Jesus says to the church is based on characteristics of the city. The letter begins, “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write…” (Revelation 3:14a). Laodicea was extremely wealthy. Possibly the wealthiest of all the seven cities and seven churches. The city was the banking capital for all of Asia Minor. Laodicea was home to millionaires. Additionally, three major trade routes (like interstates) came through Laodicea. A few years prior to this letter, in 60 A.D. the city was heavily damaged by an earthquake. The Roman Emperor offered the citizens assistance to rebuild, but they refused any help and rebuilt their town using their own resources. “Laodicea was too rich to accept help from anyone.”
In addition to banking, Laodicea received great wealth from their wool and clothing industry. They were world famous for a certain breed of black wooled sheep. Clothes made in Laodicea were of the highest quality.
Also, in the city was a temple to the god Men (pronounced meen), the god of healing. Within Laodicea was a famous medical school known for two types of medicines: (1) A certain ointment that was used to cure sore ears. (2) An eye powder that when mixed with mineral water, created a salve that was world famous for its ability to heal weak and ailing eyes. In fact, the main school at the medical school was ophthalmology.
There was one more thing Laodicea was known for, and that was its lukewarm water. More about that later.
Concerning Laodicea, William Barkley writes, “The Laodiceans were the people who put their trust in material prosperity, in outward luxury and in physical health. They put their trust in the things of this world and in the things of time.”
Like the six previous letters, the first part of this letter describes Christ. “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation” (Revelation 3:14b). First, Christ is described as the “Amen.” What this means is that Jesus is the Truth, and what He is about to say to the church is the truth. Second, Christ is described as “the faithful and true witness.” According to the Old Testament Law, two or three witnesses were needed to confirm a testimony in court. But here, Jesus is the truth, and He is the only witness needed to testify about the real condition of the church in Laodicea. Third, Christ is described as “the ruler of God’s creation.” Jesus is sovereign over all. To the church in Laodicea, Christ is pictured as the final authority. There will be no appeals in His court.
The letter has nothing good to say about the Laodicean church. There is no commendation. Instead, Jesus jumps straight to the criticism. He says, “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” (Revelation 3:15-15). A strong critique, indeed. But one that is best interpreted by the city of Laodicea itself.
Laodicea had a serious water problem. The Lycus River, which ran through the city, often dry up. As a result, Laodicea looked to her nearby neighbors—Hierapolis and Colossae—for most of their water. “Hierapolis was famous for its hot mineral springs, and people would travel from all over to bathe in them in hopes of healing for skin diseases and joint pain.” The hot springs of Hierapolis are still a tourist attraction today. The Laodiceans built aqueducts to carry water the five miles from Hierapolis to Laodicea. The problem was, by the time the water got from Hierapolis to Laodicea, it was no longer hot. It was lukewarm; and worse, all the minerals in the water made it unsuitable to drink, except for the medicinal purpose of making you throw-up.
The city of Colossae was eleven miles away from Laodicea. Colossae’s water came out of the mountains and was famous for how cold it was. Laodicea built aqueducts to Colossae, but by the time the water got from Colossae to Laodicea, it was no longer cold, but lukewarm. The temperature in Laodicea could climb above 100 degrees. On a hot day, lukewarm water did not quench your thirst! If you were hot and thirsty, more than likely, you would spit it out.
The water in Laodicea was neither hot nor cold. It was lukewarm! Hot water was good for healing baths. Cold water was good for refreshment. Lukewarm water was good for nothing! And that is the point of Jesus’ contrast. A local church should be a place of healing and comfort; refreshment and rejuvenation. If a church is not offering those things, no matter how much good that church may be doing, that church is actually good for nothing.
Here is the bottom line: There are other places in the city people can go to for fellowship, good music, athletic programs, drama, child-care, youth programs, volunteer opportunities, benevolence, and entertainment. But it is the local church that has the message of hope and of healing and of encouragement. Why? Because it is the local church that stewards the gospel of Jesus Christ! When a church strives to be all things to all men, yet, in the process, forgetting that their mission is to bring healing and hope, things no other organization can do, that church becomes lukewarm and is good for nothing. If we are not faithfully proclaiming the gospel of Jesus—in word and deed—we are good for nothing!
Someone put it this way: “The sort of Christianity represented by Laodicea is worthless. The church provided ‘neither refreshment for the spiritually weary, nor healing for the spiritually sick. It was totally ineffective, and thus distasteful to its Lord…(Jesus) is wishing that Laodicean Christians would have an influence upon their society.’” By proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, the church is to be influencing culture, not culture influencing the church. We may be good at some things. But if we are not good at the right things, we are good for nothing.
The letter’s challenge to the church begins, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing’” (Revelation 3:17a). This is an obvious reference to the city turning down the Emperor’s money to rebuild after the earthquake of 60 A.D., just a few years before this letter. Their riches made them arrogant. Their wealth made them worldly. Jesus says, “But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17b). Ouch! Everything the Christians in Laodicea thought they weren’t, they actually were. The Christians in Laodicea, like their surrounding neighbors, thought they were privileged, but Jesus says they were really, “wretched,” or miserable. They thought their riches were signs of God’s blessings, but Jesus says, in actuality, they were “pitiful,” or pathetic. They lived in one of the wealthiest cities in the entire ancient world. They lacked nothing. But Jesus said they were actually “poor.” They were known for their medicinal powder, that when mixed with the mineral-rich hot water from Hierapolis, created an eye salve that made weak eyesight strong. But Jesus says they were “blind.” They were known for their black wool that made the best of clothes. But Jesus says, in actuality, they were “naked.”
Do you see what Jesus is doing? He is addressing every area in which they had become smug and proud. They thought they did not need anything. They thought they were good. But Jesus says their brand of Christianity was really good for nothing. Here is the application: Don’t let your religion deceive you into believing you are something you really aren’t. Let me put it another way: If your religion makes you less like Jesus, and more like the culture in which you live, you are doing it wrong.
Notice what Jesus says next, and keep in mind He just said they were “poor,” “blind,” and “naked:” “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich…” (Revelation 3:18a). True riches are not found in a bank, but in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “…and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness… (Revelation 3:18b). True self-worth is not found in what you wear, but in the fact that Jesus has forgiven you of your sins. He has clothed you in His righteousness. “…and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see” (Revelation 3:18c). True healing comes from seeing yourself the way Jesus sees you; with compassion, love, grace, and mercy.
And now the promise: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline” (Revelation 3:19a). When the Holy Spirit convicts you, REJOICE! It means God loves you. “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 him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Jesus wants a personal relationship with everyone, but He never forces Himself on anyone. You have to open the door and let Him in. What a beautiful picture of a loving God!
The promise continues, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:21-22). Jesus promises eternal life to those who remain faithful till the end. Jesus overcame, and so can we.
For people my age, who grew up in Sunday School, there is a famous picture of Jesus I am sure you recognize. It is a picture of Jesus, standing at the door, knocking. It is based on Revelation 3:19. Every Sunday School teacher would say to the children in his or her class, “Jesus is standing at the door of your heart, knocking. He wants to come in and be with you forever. But look at the picture closely. Notice there is no door knob. The only way Jesus will come in is if you open the door.” That picture left an incredible imprint on my life. So, I say to you, “Jesus is standing at the door of your heart, knocking. He wants to come in and be with you forever. But look at the picture closely. Notice there is no door knob. The only way Jesus will come in is if you open the door.”
For those of us who have been following Jesus for a while, Jesus is telling us to take a deep look into our lives. Our we depending on wealth and health, and prestige to get us through this life? Yes, we may be moral and good, but have we become good for nothing? Do we need to repent and recommit ourselves to the One who died for us?
All seven churches call us to radical discipleship.
Are we willing to be radicals for Jesus?
 William Barclay, Letters to the Seven Churches, (1982). Westminster John Knox Press, p. 81.
 William Barclay, p. 82.
 Dr. Jonathan Welton, Understanding the Seven Churches of Revelation, 2015. Welton Academy, Rochester, NY, p. 142.
 Dr. Jonathan Welton, p. 145.