Laodicea Lukewarm Faith
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21. Laodicea Lukewarm Faith
Revelation 3.14-16

"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. 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 3.14-16)✞

Greek King Antiochus

Laodicea Pipe and RuinsThis epistle is one of seven Revelation's letters addressed to the ancient city of Laodicea or "Diospolis." Laodicea was founded in BC 262 by the Greek King Antiochus Theos of Syria on the River Lycos and named after his wife Laodice I. Laodicea is mentioned six times in the New Testament. It is the last and the most southerly church in Asia. Laodicea city, now called "Denizli" in Turkey, has the grim distinction of being the only church where the risen Christ has nothing good to say. "The city of Zeus" commemorates the ancient Greek god of sky and thunder. During the second Syrian war, Antiochus 11 is given the title of "theos" (or god) by one of his freed peoples.

Lukewarm Faith

Interestingly, Antiochus appears in the "Edicts of Ashoka," the Emperor of India, who receives Buddhist proselytes and is the beneficiary of herbal medicine for humans and animals. Such is the superstition and paganism of ancient Laodicea. This Revelation letter reprimands Laodicea for being lukewarm in their faith, although with no particular faults singled out. "The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's Creation," says to them in Revelation 3.16, "Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am about to spit you out of my mouth." Salve ointment remedies and the violet tunics were the sources of their wealth compared to baptism's pure white robes. Their material prosperity contrasts with their spiritual poverty and lack of faith. The Laodicea water aqueduct provides water for the city's woolen clothing manufacturers. The people highly prized the sheep's soft, violet-black, glossy wool manufactured into outer garments. It made its producers very rich. The words of the risen Christ speak directly against this reliance on prosperity. In the minds of its citizens and its church, their wealth eliminates even their need for God!

Silver Coins

Laodicea Silver CoinsLaodicea coins are symbolic of the wealth acquired by the Laodicean medical center. It is best known and made a lot of money from producing eye salve as a healing ointment and a remedy for various common eye problems. Real sight and perception contrast in this Revelation passage with the blind spirituality of Laodicea. Believers in the Laodicea church have strong links to Colosse just ten miles from it along the Lycus Valley. It did not, however, take a stand for anything, and indifference leads Laodicea to idleness. It is just as if they have a visual impairment or vision loss, for they can not see the real needs around them. The Laodicean church needs eye-salve for their own decreased ability to see but in a radically different spiritual sense. By neglecting to do anything for Christ, the church is now hardened and self-satisfied. It has become spiritually blind, as illustrated by John 9.39, where Jesus said, "For judgment, I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind."

Commercial Hub

LaodiceaAs a medical center, Laodicea is essential due partly to its position on the most strategically important highway in Asia, which joins Ephesus in the West to Syria in the East. The road that runs through Laodicea begins at Ephesus' coast and climbs up to an 8,500 feet high central plateau. It follows the valley of the River Meander, which wanders about the valley until it reaches what is known as the Gates of Phrygia. Laodicea is the most critical hub in this part of the Roman Empire. It exports its famous eye salve and makes a great deal of money in Laodicean silver coins.

Meandering Laodicea River

Meandering riverThe meandering Laodicea river is symbolic of the lethargic church and its Bishop Archippus, who was criticized by Saint Paul for not completing his ministry. When Paul was writing to the neighboring Church of Colossae in Colossians 4.17, he says sternly, "Tell Archippus: 'See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.'" Archippus is somehow failing in his duty. About thirty years before the writing of Revelation, the rot had already set in Laodicea. Beyond the Gates of Phrygia lies a broad valley that links together Lydia, Phrygia, and Caria. Laodicea's river, called the River Maeander, enters that valley by a narrow, steep gorge through which no road can pass. The way, therefore, detours through the Lycus valley, and in that valley stands Laodicea. "The ruler of God's creation," or "the origin or the beginning of God's creation," addresses these churches in Revelation 3.15. Jesus condemns Laodicea more than the other Churches of Revelation. There seems to be no redeeming feature in it.

Archippus

Icon of ArchippusArchippus is Greek for the "master of the horse" in the First Century AD. He may be one of the seventy-two disciples, also known in the Eastern Christian tradition as the Seventy Apostles appointed by Jesus. Luke 10.1-2a explains, "After this, the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.'" Some manuscripts read "seventy" instead of "seventy-two" in verse 17. "The Apostolic Constitutions 8.46" reprimands Archippus. It says that Archippus should have been careful to fulfill his appointed ministry.

Jesus' Amen Words

Hebrew Amen JesusThe Laodiceans hear Jesus' amen words or the final commands of "the ruler of God's creation." Jesus knows the Laodicean's deeds and acts. This letter to Laodicea begins with a series of titles for Jesus Christ, including the most prestigious title, "The Amen." "Amen" is used after a prayer, a hymn, or sometimes a member of the congregation to show agreement. Hence the phrase "Amen to that!" or "Amen" means "it is so" or "so be it." The English word comes from the Hebrew "Amen," meaning "certainty," "truth," and "truly." The English pronunciation may be "Ah-men" or "ay-men!" Being called "The Amen" is an affirmation of Jesus' deity, but it sounds somewhat strange because of its origins. The English translation calls God "the one true God" or "the Amen." Isaiah 65.16 says, "Whoever invokes a blessing in the land will do so by the Amen; whoever takes an oath in the land will swear by the Amen." In Hebrew, God Almighty is called the "the God of Amen." "Amen" shows an agreement with the prayer and recognizes the "God of Amen" and the "Jesus Amen."

Authentic Jesus

Jesus Wooden Plaque"Amen" is often placed at the end of a solemn statement to authenticate its truth. If Jesus is "the God of Amen," then his words can be utterly relied upon to be entirely accurate. Jesus Christ is the one whose promises are authentic, real, true, accurate, and genuine beyond any doubt. Rabbinic scholars from medieval France believed the Hebrew word for "faith" or "emuna" to be derived from the root word "amen." The angel of the church in Laodicea writes in Revelation 3.15, "These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. This phrase means "the "origin" or "beginning" of God's creation." The Son of God and the Creation of all things connect in the New Testament. Saint John's Gospel says of Jesus in John 1.3, "Through him, all things were made; without him, nothing was made that has been made." Saint Paul writes of Jesus in Colossians 1.16, "For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him." As Christians see it, the God of Creation, the Amen, and the God of Redemption are the same. All three expressions refer to Jesus.

The Originator of Created Things

Court JudgeJesus' creation witness indicates that Christ is the originator of all created things in Heaven and on Earth because he is truly God. In John 1.51, Jesus' witness begins, "Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." The Greek for "truly" here is "Amen." Jesus is speaking to many people, for the Greek "you" is purposely plural. Many people will see the heavens open, with the angels ascending and descending on Jesus. Jacob explains his dream in Genesis 28.12, "He (Jacob) had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it." Jesus Christ is called "the Amen" in Revelation 3.14-16, with a reminder of his truthfulness and reliable promises. Jesus is "the witness" on whom we can count and who is authentic. Witnesses in a court must have seen with their own eyes the occurrence to which they relate. They must be honest so that they repeat with accuracy what they have heard and seen. They must have the ability to tell the truth, such that their statement may make its right impression on those who hear. Testimony cannot be hearsay, although an expert witness can advise that which is in his or her particular area of knowledge and expertise.

In Truthfulness

ButterflyJesus' witness at the Creation perfectly satisfies these conditions as a witness. Jesus can tell of God because he coexists with his Father. His witness is right because he is "the ruler of God's creation" and began the creation process. Jesus is also "dynamically the beginning." The word for "beginning" is "arche." Jesus is the "arche" or "archetype" of all things. That is, all things begin in him.

Laodicea Banking Center

Laodicea Silver CoinsIn the First Century AD, the Laodicea banking center was well known. It was about 100 miles east of Ephesus and was probably the wealthiest of all the seven cities in the "Ephesus Crescent." It was founded in 255 BC by King Antiochus 11 and renowned as an important banking center. Laodicea gained its wealth from black wool, eye, and ear treatments. Laodicea was so prosperous that it minted its coins, and the Romans permitted their use. It manufactured specialty woolen garments and boasted a medical school that administered eye and ear ointments. When Cicero (BC 106-43), a Greek philosopher and one of Rome's most exceptional speakers, traveled in Asia Minor, it was at the Laodicea banking center that he cashed his letters of credit. It was undoubtedly one of the wealthiest cities in the Roman world at that time.

Laodicea Water

Hierapolis SpringsLaodicea's lukewarm water is neither hot enough for a bath like the Hierapolis springs nor cold enough to drink. Ancient Laodicea always has problems with its water supply. The water travels so far by viaduct that it is "lukewarm" and neither hot nor cold. The word "viaduct" comes from the Latin "via" for "road" and "ducere" to "lead." Its neighbors at Hierapolis Springs have ample hot water for bathing, and Colossae has streams of refreshing cold pure water for drinking. A Stack Exchange contributor adds, "In the nearby city of Hierapolis, these hot springs were famous. People came from great distances to bathe in those waters, believing they had medicinal powers." "They were therapeutic and effective in improving one's health." Another city called Colosse is not far away. As Hierapolis is known for its hot springs, Colosse is known for its cold waters. People journey to Hierapolis to bathe in the hot springs for health purposes, and would also to vacation in Colosse, where they could invigorate themselves by taking frequent dips into the famous, refreshing, cool-to-freezing waters of that city." The Laodicean viaduct delivers only tepid water. Laodicea's Christian faith is similarly lukewarm, being neither hot nor cold.

Problem Water Supply

Earthquake Pavement CrackIn 61 AD, Laodicea, a very wealthy city in Roman Asia, is devastated by an earthquake. The wealthy and independent citizens refuse any help from the Roman government and rebuild their town out of their resources. No wonder Laodicea's boast that it is wealthy and has no need of anything. The city is also so prosperous that it does not feel the need for God. The phrase "the ruler of God's creation" in Revelation 3.14 reflects the fact that Jesus creates the water they are complaining about in the first place. "the ruler of the origin or beginning of God's creation," emphasizes the Creator God.

Six Mile Aqueduct

Laodicea AqueductAn aqueduct is a large stone or brick engineered structure built to transport water over vast distances. The Laodicea aqueduct carried water for 6 miles from Baspinar to Laodicea on high across valleys on tall brick columns and arches and through tunnels in the mountains. A Stack Exchange contributor adds, "The pipes effectively delivered the water - a real feat of construction. Sadly, however, the water lost its heat along the way. By the time the water reached Laodicea, it was not only lukewarm, but it had developed a sickening, nauseating taste. The taste was so revolting that no one wanted to drink it!" The ancient Romans loved to bathe, and so good hot water was an essential element in their social wellbeing. In many of Rome's squares today, you can still see fountains where the bathhouses and brothels used to be. In Roman times, aqueducts traveled over long distances to provide a water supply to outlying communities. Some aqueducts remain because of the excellence of Roman engineering skills two thousand and more years ago. Jesus' statement to the Laodicea church is that their spirituality has faded and is as useless as their tepid water. Therefore, Jesus harshly warns the Laodiceans as he does many today in Revelation 3.16, "I am about to spit you out of my mouth!" The ancient ruins of Laodicea are all that remains today.

"Laodicea Lukewarm Faith"
by Ron Meacock © 2020

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