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 RuinsLaodicea is founded in BC 262 by the Greek King Antiochus Theos of Syria on the River Lycos. It is named after his wife Laodice I. The city of Laodicea now called "Denizli" in Turkey, has the grim distinction of being the only church of which the risen Christ has nothing good to say. This epistle is one of seven letters in Revelation addressed to the ancient city of Laodicea. The city is originally called "Diospolis" or "the city of Zeus" the ancient Greek god of sky and thunder. Laodicea is built on the River Lycus and is now in present-day Turkey. During the second Syrian war, Antiochus 11 is given the title of "theos" (or god) by one of his freed peoples. Interestingly, Antiochus is mentioned in the "Edicts of Ashoka," the Emperor of India, as one 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 no particular faults are 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." The salve ointment remedies and the violet tunics that are the source of their wealth are also compared to the white pure robes of baptism. Their material prosperity is contrasted with their spiritual poverty and their lack of faith. The Laodicea water aqueduct also provides water for the city's woolen clothing manufacturers. The sheep's soft, violet-black, glossy wool is manufactured into outer garments and is highly prized in those days. It makes its producers very rich. The words of the risen Christ speak directly against this reliance on prosperity. In the minds of its citizens, and of 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. Laodicea, which was an ancient city in Western Turkey is mentioned six times in the New Testament. It is the last and most southerly church in Asia with a letter addressed to it by John of Patmos in Revelation. It is best known and made a lot of money from producing eye salve as a healing ointment and as a remedy for various common eye problems. True sight and perception are contrasted 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

LaodiceaLaodicea as a medical center is important due in part to its position on the most strategically important highway in Asia which runs from Ephesus in the West to Syria in the East. The road which runs through Laodicea begins at the coast at Ephesus 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. This places Laodicea as the most important hub in this part of the Roman Empire. From there, it exports its famous eye salve and makes a great deal of money in Laodicean silver coins in the process.

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. That is about thirty years before the Revelation is written, but it may have been that 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 appropriately the River Maeander enters that valley by a narrow precipitous gorge through which no road can pass. The road, therefore, detours through the Lycus valley and in that valley stands Laodicea. It is these churches that "the ruler of God's creation," or "the origin or the beginning of God's creation" is addressing in Revelation 3.15. Of the seven Churches of Revelation, Laodicea is most condemned. 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. Archippus is reprimanded in "The Apostolic Constitutions 8.46". It says that Archippus should have been careful to fulfill the ministry which he was given.

Jesus' Amen Words

Hebrew Amen JesusThe Laodiceans are given Jesus' amen words or the final commands of "the ruler of God's creation." Jesus knows the Laodicean's deeds and acts upon them. This letter to Laodicea begins with a series of titles for Jesus Christ including the most important title, "The Amen." "Amen" is often used after a prayer is said or a hymn is sung or sometimes by a member of the congregation to show agreement with the preacher. Hence the phrase "Amen to that!" "Amen" means simply, "it is so" or "so be it." The English word comes from the Hebrew "Amen" meaning "certainty," "truth" and "truly." In English, it may be pronounced as "Ah-men" or "ay-men!" Being called "The Amen" is an affirmation of Jesus' deity, but it sounds somewhat strange because of its origins. God is called in the English translation "the one true God" or "the Amen." Isaiah records in Isaiah 65.16, "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." This affirmation indicates agreement with the sentiment in the prayer and also recognizes the greatness of both God and 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 true. This means that Jesus Christ is the one whose promises are authentic, real, true, accurate and genuine beyond any shadow of a doubt. Rabbinic scholars from medieval France believed the standard 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 connection of the Son of God to the Creation of all things is frequently made 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 will see heaven open and the angels ascending and descending on Jesus. This no doubt would remind his hearers of Jacob's 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." When Jesus Christ was called "the Amen," as in the above passage in Revelation 3.14-16, it was a reminder of his truthfulness and that Jesus' promises could be relied upon. Jesus is "the witness" on whom we can rely and who is true. Witnesses in a court must have seen with their own eyes the occurrence 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 true impression on those who hear. Testimony cannot be hearsay although an expert witness can advise that which is in his or her special 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 true because he is "the ruler of God's creation" and began the process of creation. 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 have their beginning in him.

Laodicea Banking Center

Laodicea Silver CoinsThe Laodicea banking center and its silver coins were well known for commerce and finance in the First Century AD. Laodicea was about 100 miles east of Ephesus and was probably the wealthiest of all the seven cities in the "Ephesus Crescent." It is founded in 255 BC by King Antiochus 11 and is renowned as the most important banking center in that area. Laodicea gained its wealth from black wool, eye, and ear treatments. Laodicea was so prosperous that like many other Greek cities it minted its coins which the Romans permitted to be used. It manufactures specialty woolen garments and boasted a medical school that administers eye and ear ointments. When Cicero (BC 106-43) who was a Greek philosopher and one of Rome's greatest speakers is traveling in Asia Minor, it is at the Laodicea banking center that he cashes his letters of credit. Laodicea is certainly 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. An experience in those waters was viewed to be 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 in-between water. Laodicea's Christian faith is similarly lukewarm being neither hot nor cold.

Problem Water Supply

Earthquake Pavement CrackIn 61 AD, Laodicea, which is then a very wealthy city in Roman Asia, is devastated by an earthquake. The citizens, however, are so rich and independent that they refuse any help from the Roman government and rebuild their city out of their resources. No wonder Laodicea's boast that it is wealthy and has no need of anything. The city is also so rich 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. This verse may also be translated as "the ruler of the origin or beginning of God's creation" which emphasizes the Creator God.

Six Mile Aqueduct

Laodicea AqueductAn aqueduct is a large stone or brick engineered structure built to transport water over large distances. The Laodicea aqueduct carries water for 6 miles from Baspinar to Laodicea on high across valleys on tall brick columns and arches and through tunnels in mountains. A Stack Exchange contributor adds, "The pipes effectively delivered the water - a real feat of construction at that time. 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 love to bathe and so good cold water is seen as an essential element in their social wellbeing. In many of the squares in Rome 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 today because of the excellence of the Roman engineering skills two thousand and more years ago. The point of Jesus' statement to the church at Laodicea is that their spirituality has faded and is as useless as the tepid water that flows into the city. 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 © 2019

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