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Revelation 3:14-22: Measuring the Church Print E-mail
Revelation
Sunday, 11 March 2012

We have spent the past few weeks looking at the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3.  We have been asking and answering the question: ‘What does the Lord expect, command, promise, to the Church?’  We have seen that each of the churches was facing suffering and persecution.  Tonight, we will be learning about churches in other parts of the world who are facing similar struggles today.  Yet, even though we are not facing fierce persecution like these churches from Asia and those we will consider tonight, we are still called to patiently endure and be faithful in our service to Christ.  And it seems that one Church in particular faced very similar circumstances to us in America, namely the Church in Laodicea.

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The city of Laodicea was very wealthy.  When an earthquake basically destroyed the city in 60 a.d., they were able to rebuild without receiving any outside assistance.  They were known for the black wool and the eye salve that they produced.  These products and their location allowed the city to become very wealthy.  But all was not well at the Church.  Sound familiar?  As Americans we are wealthy.  Sure we may not be the rich of the rich, but compared to the rest of the world, we are extremely wealthy.  Yet, that does not mean that our Churches are healthy.  So then, what does Jesus say to a Church like ours, to believers like us?

The letter to Laodicea (v. 14-22)

The introduction/description of Jesus is found in verse 14.  Look at that with me.  Jesus is described as the Amen, the faithful and true witness.  This refers to the fact that Jesus was faithful in His witness to the Father throughout His life on earth.  As such, He stands as the model and example of how we are to witness to Him with our lives.  Likewise, He is the beginning of God’s creation.  This phrase could be translated in various ways which all point to Jesus being the source, origin, and ruler, of creation.  We do not follow a mere man, we follow the God-Man, the God who took on the flesh that He spoke into existence.  Since He has created us and redeemed us, He is worthy of all our devotion, which is what the Lord commands of the Church (v. 19).

The Church in Laodicea is the only Church that receives no commendation from the Lord.  Even Sardis, a Church that was dead and dying, had a few who were still faithful.  Apparently, Laodicea did not even have that.  They were in trouble.  The Lord rebukes them in verses 15-17.  Look at that with me.  We are familiar with this particular rebuke of being lukewarm.  Many interpret this to mean that the Lord would rather that they were at least cold instead of claiming to be hot, or faithful, and then only being half-hearted.  Yet, in light of the historical situation, there is another way to interpret the rebuke.  Laodicea was one of three cities, along with Hierapolis and Colossae, that were important in their particular region.  Hierapolis was known for its hot baths that were good for healing and Colossae was known for its cold springs that were good for drinking.  Laodicea, however, had no supply of water that was close and the water they brought in was neither hot nor cold and was not fit for drinking due to the mineral desposits.  Thus, it seems that the Lord is rebuking the Church for being like the cities water supply, namely not good for much use.  If a person drank the water that the Laodiceans brought it, they would immediately spit it out due to it being lukewarm and foul tasting.  This is what the Lord says is going to happen to the Church in Laodicea if they do not repent.

They think that they are blessed because of their wealth, but the Lord makes it clear that they are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.  They are the opposite of Smyrna who was poor economically but rich spiritually (see 2:9).  The Laodiceans had money, but they were poor.  They had eye salve, but they were blind.  They had black wool, but they were naked.  Instead of using their resources for ministry, they had simply amassed wealth and became lukewarm.  One of my commentators writes: “The Laodiceans were immensely wealthy, and this led to self-sufficiency and complacency, a deadly combination for the Christian.”   He goes on to say that they had money, but they have “purchased the wrong things.”   Is that true of us?  Do we spend our resources on all the wrong things that only leave us lukewarm?  If so, then we need to pay close attention to what Jesus commands this Church to do.

The commands are found in verses 18-20.  Look at verse 18.  Jesus tells them to stop taking comfort in their money and resources, which is only leaving them poor and naked.  Rather, they are to get what they truly need from Him.  Only in Him do we find true wealth, true clothes to cover our shame, and true healing.  What does this mean?  It points us to the gospel and all that Christ has done for us by coming in the flesh and dying on the cross for our sins.  Through His ministry He has purchased for us all we could ever need.  He covers the shame of our sin and rebellion with His precious blood.  He heals us from our spiritual blindness by opening our eyes to see His glorious face.  Money will never be able to purchase any of those things.  No, they can only be given freely from Christ.  Look at verses 19-20.  Instead of growing lax and lukewarm, the Laodiceans should be zealous and repent.  They should open the door for Christ to come and fellowship with them.  The only way to avoid being lukewarm is to recognize that He has all we need and to follow after Him with reckless abandon.  We are to turn from our sins and be zealous for the Lord, longing to faithfully obey Him.  The alternative is not just ‘less blessings’ but severe judgment.  Christ loves us enough to give us this warning and call us to repent.

What does Christ promise to the one who does conquer?  Look at verses 21-22.  Not only will Christ come and fellowship with those who open the door, He will also allow the one who conquers to sit on His throne.  We will reign with Him and dwell with Him forever.

An Overview of the Letters (ch. 2-3)

If we step back at this point and look at all that the Spirit has said to the Churches in Revelation 2-3, what conclusions can we draw?  Following the chart that I gave you, look at the bottom line that identifies some of these conclusions.  First, as we said last week, we must realize that we need Jesus.  The answer for each of these churches, and for us as well, is to continually look to Christ.  He is what we need.  The less we focus on Him, the less we are faithful.  Second, we must patiently endure.  I have noted each week that the main theme of the letters was patient endurance.  These churches were at different places spiritually and were facing different challenges, but they were all called to look to Christ and endure.  Many of them were doing just that and the Lord commends them for this.  We too must fight to endure. 

Third, we see that all of the problems were about belief and practice.  Some of the churches were tolerating false teaching, which led to them accommodating the culture and walking in sin.  Ephesus was dealing with false teaching but they had forgotten how to love.  Thus, we see the necessity of both.  We must have correct doctrine that leads to correct living.  To grow lax in either one will only lead to rebuke.  Fourth, the repeated commands are to repent and hold fast to the gospel.  Being faithful to Christ is not complicated.  It is difficult and hard, but not complicated.  It really comes down to repentance and faith.  We must turn from our sins and believe in Jesus in order to be saved and we must continually do this throughout our lives in order to persevere to the end. 

The last two conclusions will be the focus of the rest of the book.  Jesus makes it plain in the letters that lack of repentance and faith will only lead to judgment.  At times this judgment is temporal, but it always points to the future, eternal judgment.  The remaining chapters in the book will teach us just how severe that judgment will be.  If you think that the coming judgment is nothing to fear, then you need to pay attention to how it is described in this book.  Likewise, Jesus gives glorious promises to those who conquer.  All of these are descriptions of the eternal life that is enjoyed by faithful followers of Christ.  The book of Revelation will teach us more about this as well.  We may be tempted to forget the letters to the Churches as we move forward through the book, but we should not make that mistake.  The warning of coming judgment for those who do not repent is made vivid through John’s visions.  And the glory that is promised to the one who conquers only gets better and better throughout the book.  Chapters 4-22 were written to encourage the Churches to repent and faithfully endure.  We should keep that in mind as we continue to study through the book. 

With these seven letters we are given a measuring rod for the local Church.  Unfortunately, we are often tempted to use inferior ideas when assessing our lives as believers and the life of the Church.  I was thinking about this when I was at Brandon’s basketball game on Tuesday.  Coaches are usually judged on one criteria: wins and losses.  If you win, you are successful, if you lose, you are not.  But sitting there watching the game, I started thinking about Isaiah and what I would want for him in a coach.  Would I value wins over character?  Would I want his coach to make him better on the floor or better as a man?  Sometimes you can do both, but not always.  And when that decision has to be made, what does a good coach do?  What would I want Isaiah’s coach to do? 

When we measure a coach, or a company, or a used-car salesman, or whatever, we want to be sure that we are using the right standard.  As Christians, we want to be certain that we are using the biblical measuring rod for our lives and our churches.  When you measure your life as a believer, do you think about things like looking to Christ alone and patiently enduring?  Do you focus on both your beliefs and your practice or do you sacrifice one for the other?  Is the goal of your life to repent and hold fast to Jesus all your days?  Do you go to work and go home thinking about how you can make sure that those around you are ready for judgment?  Are you more concerned about the comforts of this life or the never-ending joy of the one to come?  This is the measuring rod that Revelation 2-3 gives us.  May we be individuals who measure our lives upon the truths that we find there.  May we be a Church that does the same.  May we hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  Amen.

1 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), p. 206.
2 Ibid., p. 209.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Monday, 19 March 2012 )

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