Revelation 3:14-22 Part 1

14) And write the message to the Church in Laodicea.  The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of God’s creation, says these things:

15) I know your works.  You are neither cold nor hot.  I would that you were cold or hot!

16) So, since you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am about to vomit you out of My mouth.

17) Because you say ‘I am rich and wealthy and have want for nothing’; and you don’t know that you are the afflicted, and pitiable and lowly and blind and naked,

18) I counsel you to acquire gold having been refined by fire from Me in order that you might be rich, and white garments in order that you might clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness might not be disclosed, and collyrium to rub in your eyes that you might see.

19) I, I put to the proof and teach all of those who I love.  Be alive, therefore, and repent!

20) Lo!  I stand at the door and knock.  Should someone hear My sound and open the door, I will go in to him and I will sup with him and he with Me.

21) I will give to him who overcomes to sit with Me in My seat as I overcame and did sit with My Father in His seat.

22) The one having an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches.


Laodicea is situated on the long spur of a hill between the narrow valleys of two small rivers which discharge their waters into the Lycus river in far western Asia Minor. The town was originally called Diospolis, and afterwards Rhoas, and then Laodicea, the building of which is ascribed to Antiochus ll in 261 – 263 BC, in honor of his wife Laodice, and it was probably founded on the site of the older town. It was approximately 10 miles west of Colossae, and 6 miles south of Hierapolis.

With regard to its proximity to the city of Colossae, listen to two passages from Paul’s letter to the Church in Colossae.  First is Colosssians 1:1-3:


1) For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh;

2) That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ;

3) In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.


And also from the fourth chapter of Colossians:


12) Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.

13) For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis.

14) Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.

15) Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.

16) And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.


So, Paul and Luke and John and (maybe) Barnabas had all been to Laodicea to minister to these believers.  It was only a day’s journey from Colossae.

At first, Laodicea wasn’t much of a city, having been right in the middle of warfare with powers of the mid-east.  But it recovered under the dominion of Rome (beginning in about 133BC).  Under the first Roman emperors, Laodicea, benefiting from its advantageous position on a trade route, became one of the most important and flourishing commercial cities of all of Asia Minor, in which banking and large money transactions and an extensive trade in black wool were carried on.  The black wool was used in the making of clothes with a silky, black sheen; and it was highly valued around the world.

The city developed large and important institutions, among which was a distinguished medical school which became the envy of the world.  Of course the institution was a center of idolatry, because its god was aesculapius (the Greek god of medicine).  One of its famous products, sold world wide, was Collyrium, which is a salve for the eyes.

This city, now some two hundred years old, was full of very wealthy people at the time of this letter from Jesus, and they had embellished the city with beautiful monuments and temples (with all their pillars), the ruins of which are still there.  And the city minted its own gold and silver coins, the inscriptions of which show evidence of the worship of zeus, aesculapius, apollo, diana, and, of course, the emperors of the Roman empire.  In fact, there is evidence that the city’s wealthy citizens lobbied Rome for the building of the first emperor-worship temple, the “honor” for which went to the city of Smyrna.

Laodicea was also famous for its pipe-line that brought water from an underground spring five miles away.  Molded pipes (made from something similar to concrete, I suppose) were laid end-to-end close to the surface, and rocks were placed over them so that workers could easily get to the pipes for repair.  It has been said that the water was full of minerals, especially calcium, and it was “lukewarm”, having traveled close to the surface for five miles.

One of the many important events in the history of this city and the area around it, as recorded by Josephus the historian, was the fact that Antiochus the Great, long before the onset of the Roman empire, had transported 2000 Jewish families to this area from Babylon. (Remember that the entire nation of Israel was transplanted to Babylon and enslaved there for seventy years, beginning in 586BC.  They were released by the king of Persia in 516BC, but many Jews just stayed in Babylon – two or three generations having been born and raised there.) 

Anyway, (even though we don’t know the reason why these Jewish families were taken out of Babylon and re-settled in this part of Asia Minor) many of Laodicea's inhabitants were Jews.  (Maybe they were brought in as workers; and maybe they were issued “guest worker” green cards – I don’t know.) 

But Cicero records that, from these Jewish families, there was collected, annually, the considerable sum of twenty pounds of gold which was being sent every year to Jerusalem for the Temple… the point here being that, at the time of this message from Jesus, there was a rather large and long-standing judaist contingent among the very wealthy and thriving city of Laodicea.  They had been in Laodicea for at least three or four centuries!  And, from the bulk gold collected annually, it’s obvious that judaists were among those that had done very well in the “wealth department” in the city of Laodicea.  That’s an important point in the understanding of the message from Jesus to this Church.

And, by the way, it’s also a simple deduction, from the Scripture and from the history, that a number of these Laodicean Jews were in Jerusalem for Passover and Pentecost 30AD, some thereby returning to Laodicea as newborn Christians!  And having formed a new gathering of believers in the city, it’s also easy to assume that some were rather well off, and that tensions were generated between the Jews “newborn” into Christ and the larger judaist community.  And that larger judaist community would have been a formidable foe outside this Church and inside, as it was in the other six Churches.  And wealth and prosperity occupy a prominent place in the entireity of God’s Word….not only in the prophets, but also in Jesus’ condemnation of Israel.

And that’s the issue that I want to develop first this morning – wealth and prosperity – because it has to do with the central theme of Jesus’ message to this Church.  Since it is so weighty and crucial an issue, we need to see the entire context of Jesus’ words, which come directly from the prophetic Word in the older Scripture (surprise!).

Because you say ‘I am rich and wealthy and have want for nothing’” (verse seventeen).  Those words from the Lord are reflective of the general milieu in which this Church existed, aren’t they?  The Church was formed in a city which was prosperous.  But, did He say that the “riches” were sinful?

It is an almost universally misunderstood topic, the produce of which has, since the beginning, inflicted much harm on the Church.  The misapprehension of this passage, as well as many others, has led some believers to live lives of poverty – some even cloistering themselves in convents, monasteries and other types of seclusions – in order to avoid “the things of this world” (as they express it).  Others refuse to do any work that’s not involved with the relief of human suffering, because acquiring wealth when people are suffering is a “sin”.  And still others just give away whatever they receive in order to justify themselves that they’ve done something that’s pleasing to the Lord.  “All forms of affluence is simply filthy lucre; so, if I just get rid of it, then I won’t have the problem!”

On the other side of that misappropriated concept are the groups who preach “name it and claim it” opulence and abundance… equally destructive of the sphere of the body of Christ – His Church.

And the commentaries, for the most part, are of no help.  The commentators just seem to come from nowhere, right off the tops of their heads (rather than looking at the whole context), using this and other passages to condemn this Church because it was ascertained from Jesus’ words that it had substance in possessions (as if “possessions” was an evil thing).  They meld this passage together with others (picking and choosing snippets that fit their conclusions, verses extracted from different places in Scripture, such as Jesus’ (incorrectly quoted) command to the rich young ruler to thrust the “filthy” money away from himself (as if money was in-and-of-itself “evil”).  And the (again incorrectly quoted) comment that “money is the root of all evil”.  (The correct translation is, of course, “the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil”.)  That’s considerably different, isn’t it?  You see, things can’t be evil… the “evil” is depraved man.  The “evil” is man in rebellion against God.

But rather than trying to understand the context of Jesus’ words here, it is the “imaginations of men”, and all of the “familiar concepts” that are repeated continuously as if they were universally agreed upon tenets, and “a lack of investigation into the things that our Lord said to Israel through the prophets”, and (maybe) even a little laziness mixed in that has fostered the confusion and misinterpretation of God’s Words where wealth and prosperity are concerned.

But Jesus’ words here to this Church, quoting their own comfort level – “you say, ‘I want for nothing’” – (the words) are reflective of the Church’s operational attitude toward the Lord, and how it viewed itself and its existence in response to Him.  It had become much like the Israel of old – and the Israel of the time of this writing.  Apparently it had been greatly influenced by judaists in their businesses and inheritances and their abundance.

But we need to go to the Scriptures to get our bearings, don’t we?  But rather than quoting extensive passages of Scripture (as I’m wont to do on occasion), this morning I’m going to just summarize them for you.  I love to read Scripture to you, but, in this case, there are just too many, and too scattered throughout Scripture; and reading too many long passages may cause the loss of concentration.

So let me say that all through Israel’s history, as recorded in the prophets and in the newer Scripture, God blessed His people with plenty.  From Adam in the first garden, Noah and his family in the second “heaven and earth”, Abraham’s great possessions, Joseph in Egypt, Job and all of his wealth, all of Israel in the third “heaven and earth – the land of milk and honey, David and his son Solomon with the riches of the world….  From all of these we can say that Yahveh was prompt to bless His covenant people with much.

However, in an extensive list of Biblical passages, our Lord was terribly offended with Israel.  In torrents of indignation, the words and deeds of Almighty God poured forth.  His rebukes of this nation’s idolatry and harlotry are peppered with condemnatory descriptions of its affluence and its security.

In the prophecy of Isaiah, it was the entire “land” – the heavens and the earth that God had created in the new “Eden”, the land of milk and honey – that was filled with horses and chariots and swords and spears and gold and silver and every other kind of treasure… all in great abundance.

God’s covenant people were content with their “dainties” and delicacies and their fine clothes.  Women were bedecked with tinkling bells and hanging jewelry and fine linens and gold rings and bracelets.  All of the prosperous were feasting on the finest; and the wine was full and rich.

All of the best of the new ‘Eden” had been given to Israel by a loving and covenanting God.

But all of these things mentioned in the prophetic Word were written in long passages of terrifying and condemnatory language.  All that Yahveh had given them would be taken from them – even the land (the new Eden) would become desolate.  And they would die by the sword, by famine and by pestilence.

But God had given them all these things for their enjoyment – their contentment – their satisfaction and fullness and health!  The Land – their Edenic paradise - bespoke the gracious blessings of God, Who covenanted with them for every good thing!  And God said that had they asked for more, He would have given it!

God had ordered the complete eradication of an entire nation of people in order that His covenanted people might have their land and their houses and their businesses and their cattle and their vineyards and their trees and their farms and their water.  And it was, indeed, a land flowing with milk and honey… the “garden” of God.

And He commanded that a replica of His glory cloud judgment seat/throne-room be built on the top of the mountain in order that all of His covenanted nation might see His Glory, and worship Him (only) in that place.  He would be with them; and the benefit would be that they would enjoy His gracious and merciful blessings in this earthly paradise.  And all the nations of the world could see that this was His blessed and covenanted people.

So what happened?  Were God’s gifts of paradise and prosperity and contentment and riches and security evil?  Hardly!  As I said earlier, things are not evil.  Nothing that God made is evil other than creatures who rebel!  But God’s paradise and national prosperity was Israel’s by the gracious gift of God.

With few exceptions, Israel, from the beginning, was perverted, treasonous, obstinate, insolent, and intractably provocative toward Yahveh and His Word.  From the time that God shook the (then) heaven and the earth, freeing His new covenant nation from bondage, and parting the sea for them to escape, it was rebellious and insubordinate.  As soon as it reached Sinai, it took the riches that God had extracted for them from Egypt and made a golden calf by which it could worship Him better.

It was so steeped in unbelief and provocations against God, that only one person of all of those who came out of Egypt entered the paradise/heaven and earth that God had given them… Joshua.  Only one – Joshua – was older than forty!

Having been rescued from bondage, having received the very Word of God at Sinai, having received manna from the glory cloud, having received water from a “rock”, having the replica of the very throne-room/judgment seat of God right in their midst, having the glory cloud lead them and protect them and light their way, having the word of God through Moses explain to them what would happen to them should they not keep His Word, hardly anyone in Israel even had the “mark” of God on their bodies when they reached the promised land; and the entire nation had to receive that mark before they crossed the Jordan into God’s paradise.  And, remember, that they had the witness of Moses himself who provoked a life-threatening confrontation with God for neglecting that mark on his own son.  Nevertheless, even with all of this, God continued to be faithful to His covenant.

Once Israel was in God’s paradise, the unbelief and rebellion continued unabated.  Yet God poured out the riches of the world upon His new “heaven and earth”; His faithfulness, His patience, His longsuffering in full display for all Israel to see.

The prophets were unrelenting in their denouncement of Israel’s unbelief, resulting in the prophets sent directly from God being shunned, mistreated, beaten and killed.  And all through their maledictions against God’s covenant nation were calls for repentance and belief in God’s soon-to-come Messiah (more than sufficient proof that the Word of God is a Christian book from beginning to end!).

But judaism – not Christianity – was the religion of Israel.  Just as God’s faithfulness was in full display, so Israel’s obstinacy was on full display.

The gold and the silver and the jewels and the forests that God had given them out of His grace were all used to make idols; and the people worshipped idols on all the hills and mountains of Israel.  And even though God had given them one place to worship Him – the temple on the temple mount – strange fire was offered to the “gods” in all the high places in God’s new “eden”.

“Justice” was not to be found in Israel, for there was judicial oppression and the bribery of judges and illegal taking of property and divorcing of wives – all from the rich and powerful oppressing the poor.  And those without power or means had no recourse.  Through covetousness of the powerful, the common people lost the properties that God had originally distributed to the twelve tribes; and they became casualties of the system as witnesses were suborned, and threats were made, and owners of desired properties were even killed (much like Jezebel the harlot of Israel did to the owner of the vineyard that her husband so desired.

The temple itself became a “den of thieves” as the temple complex was used as an international market-place where “weighted scales” were used, and sacrificial animals and birds were traded and sold many times, and the rich and powerful got richer through exploitation and corruption.

God’s Word, according to Isaiah, was “turned upside down” as the priests and pharisees and doctors of law re-wrote the law of God to their own benefits; and what they re-wrote became the nation’s standard.

Rather than obey God’s commandments, Israel made treaties and pacts with the pagan nations for brotherhood and protection, many times trading gold and silver idols and harems as treaty “seals”.  And God called this “national fornication and harlotry”.  And the rich and contented were “content” in satisfying their lusts by discarding their wives for any reason – much like buying new clothes – turning them out to fend for themselves in a culture that had little use for “used” wives.  And that only led to more harlotry.

And “keeping” God’s Word, and “holding fast to the faith”, and anticipating the coming Messiah, and celebrating the one Sacrifice for sin promised by God; rather than those things, there was another religion that effectively ‘closed the doors” to the Holy of Holies – God’s throne-room/judgment seat.  The priesthood was just a position of graft and fraud.  And pharisees and sadducees, hypocrites and whitewashed tombs, effectively cut the nation off from hearing the truth and observing godliness.  And, therefore, the people of the nation became poor, blind, deaf, crooked, sick, infected by leprosy, demon-possessed, exploited by the wealthy and powerful, led by blind guides and falling blind into pits of depravity.

I won’t go any further with this, but you get the message, I’m sure.  What did God command the nation of His covenant – a people gifted, undeservedly, with paradise, and all of the riches of the world?  He commanded obedience, faithfulness, justice, gratitude and thankfulness, fear of God, acknowledgment of its unworthiness to receive all that God had promised and delivered – indebted and bound to God Who freely and graciously rescued it from bondage and covenanted with it for every good thing….

And God commanded contriteness and repentance from sin through every single one of His prophets, and joy and anticipation of the ONE coming Sacrifice – all foreshadowed in the ceremonial and sacrificial system!

Israel always wanted more; and it used any and all means by which to get it.  And it despised God’s plentiful provision.  And it would not hope for (anticipate) God’s promised Sacrifice for sin.  It always considered itself as “deserving” of all that it had received, for judaism never did understand depravity and poverty of spirit and the contrite heart.  It never believed that it desperately needed that One Sacrifice for sin.

Well, all of what we’ve said is summarized in Jesus’ message to this Church: “you say, ‘I am rich and want for nothing’”.  And He quotes directly from His Own words in the prophecy of Zechariah.  You see, we’re not to just “assume” what He means and what we think is right when we read Jesus’ words!  

But here it is, from chapter eleven:


4) Thus saith the LORD my God; Feed the flock of the slaughtering;

5) Whose possessors slay them, and hold themselves not guilty: and they that sell them say, “Blessed be the LORD; for I am rich”: and their own shepherds pity them not.

6) For I will no more pity the inhabitants of the land, saith the LORD: but, lo, I will deliver the men every one into his neighbor's hand, and into the hand of his king: and they shall smite the land, and out of their hand I will not deliver them.

7) And I will feed the flock of slaughtering, even you, O poor of the flock. And I took unto me two staves; the one I called Favor, and the other I called Bonds; and I fed the flock.

8) Three shepherds also I cut off in one month; and my soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me.

9) Then said I, I will not feed you: that that dieth, let it die; and that that is to be cut off, let it be cut off; and let the rest eat every one the flesh of another.

10And I took my staff, even Favor, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people.

11) And it was broken in that day: and so the poor of the flock that waited upon me knew that it was the word of the LORD.


This passage is THE sole context from which Jesus writes this Church.  His soul “loathes” the three shepherds of Israel – the rulers, the priests and the hypocrite doctors of law.  They call themselves rich and blessed, and they oppress the people – especially the poorer ones (it’s called a “slaughtering” in the prophecy.)  And all three shepherds “abhor” God and His Word, since they have all they want and need.  And God will break the staff called “Favor” by which He has blessed this nation, indicating the breaking of His covenant with it.  And those of the flock who “waited” on God (hoping and anticipating His promises), will know that He is God and this is His Word.  They are the “poor” and “needy”, who know that they must be fed with God’s staff called “Favor”.

All we do with this message from Jesus Christ to the Church in Laodicea must be done in the light of this prophecy.  And as we come to our Lord’s Table this day, let’s understand that we were all “rescued” by God; and that we were all pitiful, poor and needy and in desperate need of God’s favor.  We deserve nothing; but we give thanks for every good thing that He gives us.