The Lazy Laodiceans

Posted: November 29, 2010 in Revelation

Revelation 3:14-22, “The Lazy Laodiceans”

If there was ever a church in Revelation that fit the modern American evangelical church, this might be it.  To be sure, there are applications & parallels in each of the letters to the seven churches, but there seems to be a special application to the church in Laodicea.  We are to hear what the Spirit says to all of the churches – especially this one.

This is the last in the series of letters to the seven churches.  We’ve looked at the church that lost its 1st love away from Christ.  We’ve looked at the church that faithfully endures persecution.  We’ve looked at the church that deals with compromise in its doctrine.  …That deals with corruption from within & corruption of the gospel itself. …That deals with a congregation that is almost entirely spiritually dead & in need of salvation itself. …That has but a little strength, but will be made to be a strong pillar by Jesus, and is encouraged to be faithful in the future.

That pretty much covers the gamut, right?  Of all the things a local church congregation can deal with, that covers it, right?  Wrong.  There’s one more issue that the Lord Jesus addresses – the disease that has run rampant in many American Evangelical churches today: indifference & apathy.

Say what you might about the other churches listed in Revelation – but we can’t call them apathetic.  They may have been compromising, but at least they were active.  Jesus knew their works (even if they were little), and if there was something Jesus could commend them on, He does.  The church at Laodicea was busy doing nothing.  They simply didn’t care – and that’s a scary place to be!  Like much of the church in America, the Laodiceans thought they had it all & thought they had it made, but what they didn’t realize is that without Jesus, they didn’t have anything at all.  Obviously it’s no different with us.  Without Jesus we have nothing; but in Christ, we have everything!

Revelation 3:14-22 (New King James Version)

14 “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, …

  1. angel” = messenger…pastor…
  2. Where was Laodicea?  [MAP]  Laodicea may not have been as famous or prominent as Ephesus, Smyrna, or Pergamum, but it was an important city nonetheless.  It was known for it’s wealth (there were so many banks there that when the city was destroyed by an earthquake in 60AD, they were able to refuse the financial assistance of the Roman Senate) – they were known for their textiles (specifically a black wool) – they were famous for a medical school (which produced an eye salve exported around the empire).  All of which is referenced by Christ in the letter…  This was a wealthy, self-sufficient city & produced a church full of Christians who thought they were wealthy & self-sufficient.  They were about to get a wake-up call to the contrary by Christ the Lord!


…‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:

  1. Jesus is the Amen: We often say “Amen,” but we may not realize what it means.  The word is actually transliterated from the Greek (αμην) – we’ve simply adopted it into the English language (and many other languages around the world).  Properly, it means “firm” & it’s used to refer to the firmness of a statement or the truth of something said.  Could be translated “so be it” or “verily.” Jesus is THE “so be it” – think of Him as the One who brings all things together & brings it to pass.  In Him we live & move & have our being (Acts 17:28).  In Him all the universe consists (Col 1:17).  Jesus is the truth personified (John 14:6).  He states that which is true (doctrine), reflects that which is true (God), and fulfills that which is true (the promises of God are yes & amen in Christ Jesus – 2 Cor 1:20).  Jesus is true!
  2. Jesus is the Witness: In Ch 1:5, Jesus was already introduced as “the faithful witness” – here, the description is expanded.  He is “the Faithful and True Witness.”  (Precisely the opposite of those in Laodicea, who were neither faithful nor true.) Any courtroom attorney would tell you they want their witnesses to be faithful to the events they saw or know of.  If they are faithful, then their testimony ought to be true.  One leads to the other…  Jesus is faithful and true!  That’s all well & good, but what is Jesus a witness of?  GOD.  No one has seen God at any time, but the Son of God has declared Him to us (John 1:18).  Jesus (being God the Son) is the ultimate witness of God the Father to all mankind, because He is none other than God revealed in the flesh.  (This is the primary miracle of Christmas: the Incarnation!) 
    1. The Church has the privilege of carrying on this calling.  Jesus is the faithful & true witness of God to the world, and we are to be witnesses of Christ to the nations.  Like our Master, we are to be faithful & true to the message – what we have seen & what has been declared to us through the gospel.  We’ve no right to change or embellish it; we simply need to be faithful witnesses. …
  3. Jesus is the Cornerstone: The wording in the NKJV can be a bit confusing here.  We see “beginning” & we might assume that Jesus was the 1st one created out of all creation – yet we know that is NOT the case!  Jesus is the Creator; not the created.  The word in Greek is αρχη (arch-) & used by John in John 1 to describe the beginning of time – the time in which there was not yet time because Jesus is before time.  Properly, the word can be translated “corner” or “chief” (as in Archangel, etc.)  Speaking of Jesus as the Chief over all creation.  HCSB & NET translate “Originator of God’s creation…”  Similar idea given by Paul – Colossians 1:15-17  (15) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (16) For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. (17) And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. []  Jesus has the position of pre-eminence because Jesus is the Creator of all things.  He is the foundation – the chief – the cornerstone.
  4. Put all of this together & what is Jesus saying?  He’s the Amen (the One in which we agree & the One who brings things together) + He’s the Witness who is absolutely faithful & true in all things, especially in His perfect witness of God + He’s the Chief over all things in the created universe because He is the Creator itself = Jesus tells the truth.  He is presenting Himself here in a position of authority…the ultimate expert Who knows all & from Whom nothing can be hidden.  He’s the One who will tell it like it is – He knows us far better than we even know ourselves. …


15 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.

  1. Before we jump to conclusions over what we think this might mean to us – we need to look at what this would have meant 1st to the original readers (and especially what it meant to Jesus when He 1st had it written!).  Often teachers (good teachers) have looked at this passage & said that “cold” & “hot” referred to whether they were completely opposed to Jesus or completely on fire for Jesus – that Jesus would rather have us completely opposed to Him (cold), than merely lukewarm (apathetic & hypocritical). Yet that’s imposing an English idiom upon a Greek statement.  IOW – we’re forcing the way we use the terms “cold & hot” in our English slang onto the Greek text.  After all, the consistent message throughout the Bible is that God does not want people to live in rebellion to Him – He constantly calls people to repentance & faith!  To say a “cold” faith refers to someone opposed to God (and is preferable to God) is contradictory to the message of God to the world throughout the rest of the Scripture.
    1. Rules of Bible study: (1) Observation: What are the words on the page?  Not, what we think the Scripture says, but what do the words actually say?  (2) Interpretation: What is the context?  What was the intended meaning to the intended audience? How does this relate to other clear Scriptural teaching? (3) Application: what does it mean for us today?  This is an important step, but it’s the LAST step.
  2. So what did it mean in Laodicea to be cold or hot?  This is a reference to the various aqueducts of water that entered the city.  Laodicea was located by a river, but the water was dirty & undrinkable – so they had it brought in from elsewhere.  Laodicea was located 6 miles from Hierapolis, which was home to some medicinal hot springs of water.  They water was piped to Laodicea, but by the time it got there, the water cooled to being merely lukewarm.  Likewise, the city was located only 10 miles from Colosse, which was known for its cold, refreshing springs of water.  Yet by the time the water arrived, it had warmed to the outside temperature.  To have lukewarm water was to have tepid water – ineffective for any kind of service.  No good for healing; barely good for drinking. []  Now with that context, what is Jesus saying?  The Laodicean Christians were ineffective.  They neither brought healing nor refreshment – they were lackadaisical in their faith & tepid in their relationship with Jesus, and it made the Lord sick to His stomach.
    1. There are many things a Christian can be.  Apathetic is not one of them.  A Christian who doesn’t care about Christ is simply a contradiction in terms.  Keep in mind what a Christian is.  Someone doesn’t become a Christian simply because they were born in the United States – or because they have a church membership somewhere – or because they can’t think of any other religion that they belong to.  A Christian is someone who has knowingly & willingly turned away from their sin & entrusted themselves to Jesus Christ as Lord – someone who has consciously believed upon Jesus Christ by faith as the Son of God who died on the cross for sin & rose again from the grave – someone truly born-anew by God the Holy Spirit.  A person who has done that cannot help but care about the things of Christ & passionately desire to do the things that pleases his/her Master.  If someone names Jesus as “Lord,” then they actually act as if Jesus IS Lord, and act in submission & obedience to Him.  John 14:21  He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.  And he who loves Me will by loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. []  This is not the picture of apathy!  Yet this was the state of the Laodicean church.
    2. Put this together with vs. 16.  Jesus tells the truth – thus Jesus knows our effectiveness (or lack thereof) for God.  Jesus knew it with the Laodiceans & Jesus knows it with us.  There is no hiding of spiritual truth from God Almighty.  We might be able to fool our co-workers, or the folks we sit next to on Sunday mornings, or even our very families – but we’ll never be able to fool God.  God knows what’s in our hearts, and He loves us enough to reveal it to us.
  3. What’s the problem with apathy?  Apathy makes you blind to your circumstances.  You think you’re perfectly fine when in reality you are in great danger…and that’s exactly the case with the Laodiceans.  See vs. 17…


17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—

  1. The Laodiceans were deluded.  They thought they had it all.  They were in a wealthy city & apparently they lived somewhat free of persecution & trials. There was a large Jewish population there, and apparently it created an atmosphere where the Christians could get by relatively unnoticed.  The church (like the city itself with Rome) had gotten to the point where they thought they were completely self-sufficient. []  Big problem: NO Christian is completely self-sufficient.  That’s actually the exact opposite of what it means to be a Christian!  A Christian is someone who has trusted their lives to Christ Jesus as Savior & Lord precisely because they understand their good works are insufficient for salvation.  Only the work of Jesus Christ can bring someone into a right relationship with God.  A Christian is not self-sufficient; he/she is absolutely dependent upon the work of Christ on their behalf!
  2. The Laodiceans were desperate.  The only problem is that they didn’t know it.  They had no idea what their true spiritual state was: “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” (The opposite of the church in Smyrna.  They thought they were poor, but they were rich! Rev 2:9)  The Laodiceans needed the One who tells the truth to reveal this truth to them before it was too late.  And Jesus doesn’t hold back – He tells them their exact spiritual state, which ought to have been a terrifying description to them.  Like the accident victim in a state of shock who believes they are physically unharmed, but in reality about ready to drop over due to a broken neck – the Laodiceans were in desperate straits, but deluded about their true spiritual state.
    1. There are many Christians all over the United States in exactly the same boat!  We think we have it all – we think we can do the “church thing” without being completely dependent upon Jesus…and we’re wrong. []
  3. There’s another very real possibility here.  From how Jesus describes the people in this church congregation, it’s possible that they were Christians in name – but in name-only.  These people may have been like the church at Sardis who were dead (though at least Sardis had a remnant that remained).  Here, Jesus has no words of commendation, but instead points out that they were completely destitute, spiritually speaking. …  That’s not the description of a believer.  In Christ, we are made rich with every spiritual blessing (Eph 1:3).  In Christ, we are clothed in His righteousness (2 Cor 5:21).  In Christ, we are no longer wretched & miserable, but have been purchased/delivered/redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus (1 Pet 1:19).  For someone to have named the name of Christ but truly experience none of these things is an indication that they never truly belonged to Jesus in the 1st place.
    1. Keep in mind that this isn’t a hypothetical imaginary situation.  For many, this will be the shocking truth when they finally see Jesus face-to-face in judgment.  Matthew 7:21-23 (21) “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (22) Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ (23) And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ []  The solution?  Repent NOW.  Admit your need NOW & surrender yourself to Jesus now, before it’s too late.  It’s not enough to merely say you belong to Christ & know Him; it must be true in reality. 


18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.

  1. Laodicea may not have realized what it was they needed, but Jesus knew.  Jesus knows what we need. … And not only that, He’s perfectly capable of providing it.  As the “αρχη,” there’s no one more qualified to provide for our spiritual needs in all the universe.  He created it all; He can give us all we need!
    1. Question: Jesus tells them to “buy” these things from Him.  How can we buy anything from Jesus?  Obviously Jesus is not telling us to attempt to bribe Him with money (or that the more we give financially, the more God is obligated to bless us) – that would be blasphemous.  When it comes to salvation (or any general spiritual blessing – such as the power of the Holy Spirit, per Peter & Simon the sorcerer – Acts 8), the blessings of God cannot be purchased with money.  So what is Jesus saying?  Simple: surrender.  We cannot buy spiritual blessing with gold – we cannot purchase grace & salvation with our bank accounts.  All we can do is receive the gift by grace by surrendering our lives to His rule over us…receiving Him as Lord.  The one who seeks to save his life will lose it, but the one who loses his life (gives it up) for the sake of Christ & the gospel will find it (Mk 8:35).  Surrender your life to Christ, and He’ll provide for your every spiritual need.
  2. They needed true spiritual riches – “gold.”  The Laodiceans had money – but what they had was going to burn; it wasn’t permanent.  What they needed wasn’t a thicker wallet, but treasure in heaven.  Jesus promised them gold…and not just any gold; this is special gold.  “Gold refined in the fire” – this is gold that was absolutely purified with no imperfections.  That’s exactly what we receive from Jesus!  We receive every spiritual blessing from Him: we are adopted as the very children of God & brought into the inheritance of Christ – we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit & endued with power & gifts for spiritual service – we are given a place at the wedding feast of Christ in heaven – we are given a room (a mansion) in the dwelling place of God – we have been given life eternal.  Truly those in Christ are rich beyond imagination!
    1. Please don’t lose sight of that during the Christmas season!  We get so caught up in giving generous presents (and there’s nothing wrong with that) – but our riches don’t come from Best Buy; our true riches come from Christ Jesus.
  3. They needed true righteousness – “white garments.”  We’ve already seen how white garments are a reference to righteousness in regards to the believing remnant in the church of Sardis.  Most of those in Sardis were spiritually dead, but the overcomers were promised the white garments that only Jesus could give (Rev 3:5).  The city of Laodicea may have been known for their black wool, but even their finest clothes left them naked (like Hans Christen Andersen); what those in the church needed was to be clothed by Christ Himself.  They needed to be completely surrendered to the Lord, Who clothes us in the “new man” (Col 3:10) through His work on our behalf.
  4. They needed true spiritual sight – “eye salve.”  Because the church was living in such delusion, one of the most important needs they had was for spiritual sight.  They had no idea as to what their state was, and it was only revealed to them through the Lord Jesus.  The salve from their medical school couldn’t help them; only the salve from Jesus could.  Just as Jesus put mud on the eyes of the blind man for healing, so He can put salve upon our eyes to help us see.
    1. Sometimes we forget how important this is.  We need to see things how God sees them.  Whether it’s other people (to see them as created in the image of God & beloved by Him) or ‘stuff’ (that’s all temporary) or sin (nothing less than rebellion against a holy God) – we need to see things from His perspective.  Even in our own lives, we need His sight – that He would reveal any wicked way in us in order that we would know how to properly repent. (Ps 139:24)


19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.

  1. The Laodiceans may have been in trouble, but they were loved.  Jesus loved them enough to rebuke & chasten them.  Some may have been unbelievers; others may have truly had faith – it’s just that they were so apathetic, you couldn’t tell the difference between the saved & unsaved by looking at them.  … Whatever the case, Jesus loved them & desired their repentance, so He freely rebuked them. … It’s actually an indication that we belong to God when we experience the chastening rebuke of God.  Hebrews 12:5-7 (5) And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “ My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; (6) For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.” (7) If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? []  God loves us that much as well!  He loves us too much to allow us to continue to wallow in sin & apathy.
  2. So how ought they/we respond to that rebuke?  Through repentance! [turning – a reconsidering – a change]  The only proper response to the revelation of sin is repentance & faith. …  There’s simply nothing else we can do.  We can’t buy God off – we can’t bribe Him with our pleasant words & good works.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit & contrite heart – these He will not despise (Ps 51:17).  Nothing less than repentance & faith is appropriate.
    1. Note Jesus is referencing true repentance here.  This isn’t an opportunity for the Laodiceans to mutter some sort of apathetic “I’m sorry” & go on about their day.  In God’s eyes, there’s no such thing as “lazy revival.”  Jesus called for nothing less than a “zealous” repentance.  To the same extreme that the Laodiceans were in their “lukewarmness,” so must they be in their repentance.  They were to be zealous in repenting.   We’re to give Him our all! []
  3. Our response is repentance.  Does Jesus have a response to our response?  Yes – see vs. 20…


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 dine with him, and he with Me.

  1. Jesus is ready to respond to repentance!  This has always been the case, throughout the Scriptures.  To the nation of Israel that was in the Babylonian captivity, but finally ready to repent, God promised to hear them when they prayed & heal their land (2 Chr 7:14).  To the nations who heard the gospel, God invited them to drink of the waters, and buy without price (Isa 55:1).  To Christians who are convicted of their sin & confess them, Jesus is faithful & just to forgive us our sin & cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).  Jesus is always ready to respond to repentance!  The question is: are we always ready to repent? …
  2. We often quote this verse in evangelistic meetings, but the 1st application here is to the Christian.  To those who are apathetic & zealously repent in response to Jesus’ call, Jesus promises to fellowship with him/her…
  3. At the same time, there IS still an application to the unbeliever (which makes sense especially if Jesus was speaking to a congregation full of unbelievers!).  The principle is still true with you.  If you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd calling you as His own, then you need to respond today!  God desires the whole world to be saved & to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4) – He desires that none would perish, but all would come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9).  If you hear Jesus “knocking” today, then open the door!  Respond to His offer of grace & salvation!


21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame 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.”’”

  1. The promise to the overcomer/conqueror?  The promise to the one who opens the door to Jesus Christ in repentance?  You have the gracious offer of Jesus Christ to share in His reign & to sit on His throne…  (Clarke) “Here is a most remarkable expression: Jesus has conquered, and is set down with the Father upon the Father’s throne; he who conquers through Christ sits down with Christ upon his throne: but Christ’s throne and the throne of the Father is the same; and it is on this same throne that those who are faithful unto death are finally to sit! How astonishing is this state of exaltation! The dignity and grandeur of it who can conceive?”
  2. Note that Jesus is also an overcomer.  He obviously did not conquer apathy; but He did conquer temptation.  He conquered the Devil.  He conquered death itself.  Jesus is the very model of an overcomer!



The church at Laodicea was lazy – indifferent to the things of Christ, apathetic to His presence.  They were barely believers…if truly born-again at all!  They were deluded regarding their spiritual state & didn’t have a clue as to what kind of danger they were in.  They thought they had everything, when in reality they had nothing.

What a frightening place in which a church congregation (or individual Christians) to find themselves!  We don’t want to be of those who cry out “Lord, Lord!” by claiming Jesus as Lord in name, but not truly knowing Him in reality.  Or being so apathetic to Christ that we don’t know if He’s on the inside of the church, or outside the door! 

Jesus is absolutely central to everything we are!  Without Him, we have nothing, but in Him we have everything.  In Christ, we have true spiritual riches (gold refined in the fire) – we have the righteousness of God given to us (white garments) – we have true spiritual sight (eye salve) – we have a glorious inheritance in which we’ll reign with Jesus from the very throne of God!  What can possibly compare?

Christian: don’t compromise that with anything.  Don’t give into the lie of “self-sufficiency” outside of Christ.  Don’t buy into the style of Christianity (Churchianity) where you can simply do 10 simple things to have everything you ever dreamed of right now, leaving the Lord Jesus on the outside & irrelevant to life.  Our life doesn’t merely include Christ, our life is IN Christ.  He has got to be central to everything – keep your eyes upon Him, serve Him, love Him.  It’s only in Christ you’ll find your sufficiency – and that’s the way it ought to be.

If you can’t count yourself as a Christian yet – if you haven’t yet humbled yourself before Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died for your sins & rose from the grave, receiving Him by faith as Lord – then you’ve heard the call.  Jesus will respond to repentance.  He always has & always will.  You’ve got the opportunity right now today.  Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.  So many people have wasted the opportunity they were given for repentance – don’t be one of them.  While you hear the Lord’s voice & calling, respond. 

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