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The Church at Laodicea: the Worldly and Self-Deceived Church

Lyn Mize

The city of Laodicea is an ancient city of western Asia Minor in present-day western Turkey. The Seleucids built Laodicea in the third century B.C., and it was a prosperous Roman market town on the trade route from the East. Laodicea was an early center of Christianity.  

The following is an article by Phil Logan in Holman’s Bible Dictionary:

“Laodicea was well known in the ancient world for its wealth. The extent of its wealth is illustrated by the fact that Laodicea was rebuilt without the financial help of Rome after the disastrous earthquake of AD 60. Laodicea earned its wealth in the textile industry in the production of black wool and in the banking industry. Laodicea was also known for its medical school, which concocted a spice nard for the treatment of ears and an eyesalve. The major weakness of Laodicea was its lack of a water supply. This need was met by bringing water six miles north from Denizli through a system of stone pipes (another sign of Laodicea’s wealth). 

Laodicea is best known today to readers of Revelation where Jesus criticized Laodicea, using imagery drawn from its daily life (Rev. 3:14-22). First, Jesus said Laodicea is neither cold (like the cold, pure waters of Colossae) nor hot (like the therapeutic hot springs of Hierapolis). Laodicea is lukewarm and provides neither refreshment for the spiritually weary nor healing for the spiritually sick (Rev. 3:15-16). Despite their apparent spiritual uselessness, the Laodiceans were claiming a spiritual wealth equal to their material wealth; and further, they were claiming to have acquired both by their own efforts. In reality, however, the Laodiceans, while they may have had material wealth, were spiritually poor, blind, and naked (Rev. 3:17)--an obvious reference to the textile and banking industry and medical school of Laodicea. According to Jesus, what the Laodiceans needed more than anything else was the true gold, white (not black) garments, and eyesalve that only Christ could give (Rev. 3:18). A true spiritual foundation is laid only in Christ, not human effort.  

The letter of the risen Christ to the church at Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22) contains numerous allusions to conditions in the city. A five-mile-long aqueduct supplied the city with tepid water that served as an image for "lukewarm" Christianity (3:15-16). The Laodicean claim to be rich and prosperous reflects the self-reliant refusal of this city to accept Roman aid for rebuilding after an earthquake of about A.D. 60 (3:17). The charge that the Laodicean Christians were naked, blind, and in need of clothing and eyesalve (3:17-18) reflects the city's well-known school of ophthalmology and its fine garments of raven-black wool of local sheep.”

In addition to being a literal city of early Christianity, Laodicea is a prophetic picture of the Church Age that began around the turn of the century in 1900, and will continue until the Firstfruits Rapture of the Church. As shown in the following exegesis, Laodicea will be “left behind” at the time of the Firstfruits Rapture.

It is important to identify the church of Laodicea in this final age of the Church in hopes that some of its members will come out of this church and become part of the Philadelphia church. The four endtime churches are Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. The church ages of Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum ended but the four endtime churches continue and can be identified based on their characteristics.

The church of Thyatira is the Catholic Church. The church of Sardis is the Protestant church, represented primarily by the Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, and Lutheran churches. The Philadelphia church is so poor and in such a weakened condition financially that very few churches that meet in church buildings have the character of Philadelphia. Philadelphia survives today in home churches across America, and the churches of Thyatira, Sardis and Laodicea look down upon Philadelphia as being financially and spiritually poor. It is true that Philadelphia is financially poor because of its unpopularity and few members, but it is spiritually rich in accordance with the words of Jesus. It is ironic that Philadelphia sees itself as being poor, but Jesus sees it as being spiritually rich because of its study and reliance upon the Word of God.

The current Laodicean Church is a self-satisfied, proud and self-righteous group. It has become wealthy with material possessions, and the primary emphasis is on financial matters and organization. There is a zeal and fervor for organization and works that are to be seen by men, but very little communion with God and in-depth Bible study for the express purpose of knowing God through His Word. Most of the activities in these churches today are largely mechanical and of a social character. Committees and clubs are numerous but there is an absence of spiritual fervor. We must make a distinction here between spiritual and emotional fervor. In contrast to the Sardis church, which is characterized by cold, dead formalism, the Laodicean church is caught up in emotionalism and has confused emotional fervor with spiritual fervor. This is why Jesus referred to the church of Laodicea as a lukewarm. It has made the jump from being cold and dead like the Sardis church, but its transition was to emotional fervor rather than spiritual fervor.  

The church of Laodicea sees itself as being spiritually rich, but it is actually wretched, miserable, poor, naked and blind, as seen by Jesus Christ. The key to identifying the endtime church of Laodicea is to look for the rich church of the twentieth century that was not in existence in the nineteenth century. This is not a difficult task for the seeker of truth.  

The church of Laodicea is represented today by the church movement that began in the post-Civil War period known as Pentecostalism. The Pentecostal movement initially ministered to those of limited means, so it concentrated on the emotional, psychological and physical needs. Thus, the gifts of speaking in tongues to attain to the emotional high, prophesying in the Old Testament sense of the word for the psychological high, and healing for the needs of the physical. Consequently, the emphasis of Laodicea is on the repairing and fixing-up of the person emotionally, psychologically, and physically rather than dying to self and allowing spiritual growth to take place.  

The emphasis on physical needs rather than spiritual needs is the reason for the concentration on self-help, wealth, psychology, and emotionally energizing. Laodicea also seeks after the miraculous to boost the emotions. Laodicea emphasizes the reform and patching up of the self instead of death to self. This is seen in the parable of the patching of the old wineskin instead of providing a new wineskin for the new wine. The new wine is the new spiritual birth via the Holy Spirit, and we must kill the old self (i.e., get rid of the old wineskins) and provide new wineskins (the new man in Christ).  

It is because of the emphasis on feelings, emotions, self, wealth, prosperity, and the like that the Pentecostal and charismatic movement has matured into the endtime Laodicean church. It is also because of the emphasis on emotions that women have played a predominant role in the endtime church of Laodicea. The Laodicean church has many women as pastors, teachers, leaders and elders. The Word of God is clear on the role of women in the Church, but Laodicea is more in tune with the world and the world system than with the Word of God.

We will now begin our exegesis of the prophetic meaning of the message of Jesus Christ to the endtime church of Laodicea.

(Rev 3:14 KJV)  And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;

Prophetically, this verse is addressing the endtime church of Laodicea. The angel of the church is the leaders of this church. Therefore, the angel or messenger represents the leaders of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the denominational leaders of the charismatic and Pentecostal churches and the pastors of these churches. Some of the denominations that make up Laodicea are the Church of God, the Assemblies of God, and numerous other ones that emphasize the sign gifts of speaking in tongues and healing. There are also many independent churches that fall in this camp.  

It is ironic that Sardis appeals to the intellect and has become cold, dead and formal, while Laodicea appeals to the emotional and has become shallow and frothy. Philadelphia appeals to those who seek spiritual depth. Philadelphia has not abandoned the intellectual and the emotional, but both are under the control of the Holy Spirit rather than the old flesh nature. Philadelphia has put new wine into new wineskins by dying to self, while both Sardis and Laodicea have put new wine into old wineskins. The new wine is the new spirit birth and the new wineskins are the new man that must be put on in place of the old man.  

(Rev 3:15 KJV)  I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.  

Jesus proclaims his omniscience over the works of Laodicea. He is a faithful and true witness because of his omniscience. Therefore, his judgment will be perfect and just and there will be no appeal because of the possibility of error.  

Jesus Christ warns Laodicea about its lukewarmness. He prefers coldness to lukewarmness. This is probably because of the hypocrisy involved in lukewarmness. Jesus is referring to the true attitude of the heart here and not the outward professions. The frothy, shallow Christianity in charismatic churches and on television and radio today is not the fervency that Jesus desires. All the showmanship of falling down in the floor slain in the spirit, uncontrollable laughter, wild gibberish, and pseudo healing is primarily emotional hype. It is not born out of control by the Holy Spirit, but is designed to appeal to the flesh and the old prideful nature. Many of the worship sessions are nothing more than three-ring circuses and many of the young attend for the purpose of entertainment and curiosity. Many of the performers are simply caught up in emotionally induced states of ecstasy, and they do bizarre things claiming to be spirit-filled.  

(Rev 3:16 KJV)  So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.  

This verse literally means that Jesus will vomit Laodicea out of his mouth. Since the literal does not make any sense, we take the figurative meaning that Jesus will reject the Laodiceans at the pretribulational Firstfruits Rapture of those who have been faithful or fervent in watching and being prepared for the Lord's return.  The rest of this passage confirms this to be the meaning of this verse.  

(Rev 3:17 KJV)  Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:  

Unfortunately, the Laodicean Christians of today think they are living wonderful Christian lives. They have large luxurious buildings, stained glass windows, and large land interests. This church has abundant material possessions, and the members of this church think this wealth is also a reflection of their spiritual condition.  

Laodicean Christians are not aware of their true spiritual condition. Jesus says they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. Wretched means they have not endured the trials proffered to test them.  Miserable means that they are to be pitied instead of admired.  Poor means they have no spiritual rewards stored up in heaven.  Blind means that they do not have spiritual insight, which comes from a study of the Scriptures. Naked means they have not made the necessary preparation for the wedding by providing for themselves the wedding garment of good works. Laodicea has not distinguished between the works of the flesh and the works of the Spirit. It is because of these conditions of the Laodicean church that it will be rejected at the Firstfruits rapture. This rejection is actually a merciful act by Jesus, as the following Scripture confirms that Laodicean Christians will be given a final opportunity to rectify their shortcomings in their spirituality. This rectification will take place during the first half of the tribulation period.  

(Rev 3:18 KJV)  I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.  

After its rejection prophesied in verse 16 above because of the spiritual conditions outlined in verse 17 above, Laodicea is counseled in this verse to make the most of the opportunity in the tribulation period. Laodicea is counseled to "buy of me gold," and this means to perform spiritual works that will deserve a reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ. "Tried in the fire" means that these works will be performed during the severe persecutions of the Church during the first half of the tribulation period. The purpose of buying this gold tried in the fire is so they will no longer be spiritually poor (i.e., "thou mayest be rich”).

Laodicea will also have a final opportunity to obtain the wedding garment of good works, so they may be clothed and not appear naked at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Laodicean Christians will also have the opportunity to have their eyes healed and opened to the truths of Scripture. The persecutions of the tribulation period will help the Laodiceans wake up to the truths of Scripture.  

It is important to note that all of these achievements in spirituality occur after the Lord has rejected Laodicea at the separation or Firstfruits Rapture. If this rejection took place at the Judgment Seat of Christ, then there would be no additional opportunity to earn spiritual rewards and be clothed in the wedding garment of good works. Laodicea will be raptured in the middle of the tribulation period (See Rev. 7:9-17). They are the ones "arrayed in white robes" described in Rev. 7:13.  

(Rev 3:19 KJV)  As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.  

This verse establishes that the Laodiceans are true believers. Jesus loves them so He will rebuke and chasten them in the tribulation period. Jesus cautions them to be zealous and repent of their sins and the lives they are living. At present, there is still the possibility of repentance on the part of individual Laodicean Christians in time to avoid the tribulation period, which will be a time of rebuke and chastisement. However, the reality of the prophecy is that Laodicea as a whole will continue in their spiritual poverty, spiritual nakedness and spiritual blindness.  

(Rev 3:20 KJV)  Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.  

This verse is often misinterpreted as pertaining to spirit salvation in the evangelical sense, but it has reference to fellowship with Christians who have already been born again spiritually. Literally, this verse states that Jesus stands in charge of the door, and he is knocking on the door for the Laodicean Christian to hearken and obey his voice. If the Laodicean Christian heeds the warning, Jesus will come in and fellowship at the evening meal, which occurs before midnight and the midnight cry. In this verse, there is still time for the Laodicean Christian to repent and be eligible for the "Open Door."  

(Rev 3:21 KJV)  To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.  

This verse is also addressed to the Laodicean church during the Church Age. It includes the promise to all that overcome during the present age. The highest position of reigning and ruling, "in my throne", is still available to the Laodicean Christian who is an overcomer. Unfortunately, the great majority of Laodicean Christians will remain in their spiritual poverty and be “Left Behind” at the Firstfruits Rapture.  

(Rev 3:22 KJV)  He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

Verses 17 and 18 above are apparently the only verses in this passage that are specifically addressed to the Laodicean church in the tribulation period. Verse 19 contains the warning about rebuke and chastisement in the tribulation, and verse 20 states the requirement for avoiding the tribulation. That requirement is fellowship and intimacy with the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 21 contains the overcomers promise to those who do repent before the Firstfruits Rapture.  

This verse contains the universal appeal to all of the churches to hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. We know from verses 16-18 that the great majority of Laodicean Christians will remain in their state of spiritual blindness and spiritual nakedness right up until the time that the Separation takes place and they are “Left Behind”.