The Laodicean Church
October 15th, 1961 @ 10:50 AM
THE LAODICEAN CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-15-61 10:50 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message entitled The Message of Our Lord to the Last of His Churches. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to the Book of the Revelation. And in following the course of the chapters in the Revelation, we have come to the third chapter, the fourteenth verse. And we read the text, Revelation 3:14-22:
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;
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot . . .
So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of My mouth.
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:
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.
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
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.
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. He that hath an ear, let Him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
And that closes the era and the age of the churches. There are no more churches.
In the great arc, as the messenger from the Isle of Patmos took the Revelation, and in them, these prophetic delineations of the development of Christ’s churches through the ages – as the messenger went from church to church, he made the great circle: starting at Ephesus, then to Smyrna, then to Pergamos, then to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and finally, now, to Laodicea.
There is much of the history and topography of the city that is reflected in this letter of our Lord: "Unto the angel of the church in Laodicea" [Revelation 3:1]. That is the name of the wife of Antiochus II. He founded the city in 250 BC, where the glen of the Lycus River broadens out into the Maeander Valley and flows on down to the sea, at Ephesus. That was the gateway and the entrance into the country of Phrygia. And for that purpose, Antiochus built the city there, and named it after his wife.
That whole region of the Lycus Valley is most famous in the early story of the Christian churches. Four of the great churches of ancient Christendom were founded in that Lycus Valley. To the north of the river was Hierapolis. To the south of the river was Laodicea. About 15 miles up the river to the east was Colosse, then beyond, Apamea.
For example, in the Book of Colossians, in the last verses, Paul speaks of Epaphras [Colossians 4:12], who was the evangelizer and apparently the founder of those churches. And he says: "For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, for you at Colosse, and for them that are at Laodicea, and for them in Hierapolis" [Colossians 4:13]. Three of those churches are mentioned right there.
"Salute the brethren," Paul writes,
, which are in Laodicea.
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.
[Colossians 4:15, 16]
There were famous men who were a pastor of them. Archippus was pastor at Colosse and he had in his membership Philemon and Onesimus. Papias was pastor at Hierapolis; Papias at Hierapolis and Polycarp at Smyrna were disciples of the aged apostle John, who was pastor at Ephesus. And then, at Laodicea, this church to whom our Lord addresses the last and the seventh letter, there was in the district medicinal springs, mineral springs. That’s in the background of this nauseating thing by which he uses to describe the church.
If you know anything about springs, mineral springs, if it’s cold, cold, cold, you can get it down. If it’s hot, hot, hot, you can drink it down. But, if it is tepid – if it is lukewarm, it is very nauseating and ill-tasting and sickening. And, all around that country, they knew what it was to find those medical mineral springs and how it tasted when the hot spring was lukewarm, when it cooled off.
Then, the church describes itself as saying: "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing" [Revelation 3:17]. That is a true and an accurate reflection of Laodicea. The story of Laodicea from the beginning is a success story. Those Seleucids – when Alexander’s empire broke up, four generals seized it: Ptolemy, down in Egypt; Lysimachus, in Asia Minor; Cassander, there in Greece; and Seleucus, whose father was Antiochus, the Seleucid kings governed Assyria, of which, for the most part, Palestine belonged. Now those Seleucids were brilliant and able Greek generals and kings. They were princes who love to found cities. For example, you will find seven Laodiceas in the empire of those Seleucid kings, and I do not know how many Antiochs, and Anthomeas, which was also a woman in the family.
Wherever those Seleucids built a city, they invited the Jew to come, and offered him, as inducement and enticement, free citizenship. The reason for it was they, above all others, knew that wherever the Jew went, there went banking and trade and merchandising and prosperity.
Now, this city of Laodicea had more than its share of Jewish merchantmen. There’s an interesting thing by which you could know exactly how many Jews were in that city. There was a Roman proconsul in these days, who was the governor of the Roman province of Asia, to which Laodicea belonged. He made an interdiction against the export of gold. Doesn’t that sound modern? No more gold can be shipped out of the country, keeping it in order to bolster his coinage and his currency.
Well, as you know, all over the civilized world, once a year, every adult male Jew over 21 years of age had to send one-half shekel temple tax to Jerusalem, for the support of the worship of Jehovah there [Matthew 17:24]. So when Flaccus interdicted the export of gold, which was the coinage by which they sent the money across the sea, why, the Jews decided to disregard the ban and they took up their shekels and turned it into gold and sent it to Jerusalem anyway.
Well, Flaccus seized the gold. It weighed twenty pounds. Now, twenty pounds of gold made 15,000 drachmas. One-half shekel is two drachmas, so each one of the adult male Jews in Laodicea contributed two drachmas. Now, if there were 15,000 drachmas in the money that they sent to Jerusalem, or proposed to, divide 15,000 by 2, and you’ll have the exact number of adult male Jews above 21 years of age who lived in Laodicea: 15,000 divided by 2 – they had 7,500 adult male heads of Jewish families that lived in that city. Wherever they are, as you know, there is money, there is merchandisizing, there is banking, there is trade, there is commerce. The Seleucids, I say, were smart men. So, this city was, almost from the beginning, a success story.
An instance of their affluence is in the life of Cicero. When he made his great journey through the East, he cashed his letters of credit in Laodicea. Another instance of their prosperity is found in Tacitus. In his Annals, he described the prosperity of Laodicea. So much so, he says, that in 60 AD, when an earthquake destroyed the city, they refused the offices and the coffers and the contributions of the emperor at Rome and rebuilt their city themselves. They were a prosperous and rich people.
Well, there’s a whole lot of other things about that, but we have many more important things to speak of. So we’re going on.
This church at Laodicea represents, in this book of prophecy, the last period of church history. All seven of them depict periods, areas, ages, developments, in the story of the churches of Christ. The Ephesian period represents the apostolic church: the church of Christ and the apostles. The Smyrnan church represents the church of martyrdom, ground under the iron hand of the Roman government. The Pergamean church represents the church of the establishment, when Constantine married the church to the world. The Thyatiran church is the church of scarlet and silk and crimson and gold, representing the oracular infallibility of those who propose to speak for God. The Sardian church represents the church of the Dark Ages, in which night there are stars of the Reformation that shine. The Philadelphian church represents the church of missions and evangelization, the great outreach of the people of God as they preach the gospel to the world. And the Laodicean church represents the last church before Christ comes.
What is it like? Well, it is an astonishing thing! With every one of those seven churches, Christ could find something good except with the last. Every one of these churches, Christ commends, except Laodicea. The only church of the seven with whom He has no word of acceptance and no word of laudation and no word of commendation is the last, and the seventh, church.
If we would like to see what the church is like when our Lord comes back to earth, look at it with me for the moment: "So then, because thou art lukewarm." The last, and the Laodicean, age, the last of Christ’s churches, make Him sick. "Because thou art lukewarm" – nauseating – "I will spew thee out of My mouth" [Revelation 3:16]. The Laodicean church is a lukewarm, indifferent, insipidly spiritual church.
The Laodicean church is lukewarm: it is indifferent to the truth of God, and the doctrine of God, and the revelation of God. It doesn’t make any difference to the Laodicean church what – it doesn’t matter. Why, one church is as good as another, and one doctrine is as good as another, and one theology is as good as another, and one system is as good as another. What difference does it make?
Laodicean churches: "goodishness." And there’s a great deal of goodishness that passes as Christianity – that maudlin sentimentality that speaks of "You ought to love your mother" and "You ought not to kill anybody" and "You ought to enter into all of these fine things in the city." That’s what it is to be a Christian to the Laodiceans: a goodishness that makes God sick, when it is identified as the truth and the doctrine and the revelation of God.
Well, you can walk down any street and talk to any Christian. There will not be one out of a thousand that could tell you what he actually believes or why. He believes that Christianity is a certain kind of a goody, goodishness and that’s all – a sentimentality.
The Laodicean church is indifferent. It’s lukewarm in its commitment. They half worship God and they half worship mammon. They worship Christ and the world. They bow at the shrine of Baal and Jehovah. They mix them up. Worldliness: I am honest when I avow to you, I cannot tell the difference between the ordinary Christian and the ordinary worldling. They both look alike to me.
I was with a group last night in a religious service. I could not tell any difference in the men and the women who were Christian and who were not. They both cussed alike. They all drank alike, smoke alike, look alike, carry on alike. I could not tell any difference in them at all.
That is the Laodicean church. There’s no line of demarcation between a man that follows God and a man whose heart is in the world. They are lukewarm, they are niggly, they are tepid, they are inbetween. And Christ says: "I would that you were, out-and-out, an infidel and a member of the kingdom of Satan, or an out- and-out Christian. But to straddle the fence, to be both and, He says, it makes Me sick. It is nauseating. I will spew thee" [Revelation 3:16]. The Greek word is the word that your word "emetic" comes from.
Another thing about the Laodicean church. The Laodicean church is indifferent and lukewarm in its devotion [Revelation 3:16]. That is, it has no zeal. It has no energy. It has no soul earnestness. And if anyone were to exhibit enthusiasm for God and for the church, why, the Laodicean church says, "That offends our cultural sensibilities. It’s not in good taste."
Now, it’s in good taste to be enthusiastic everywhere else. We’re enthusiastic at these Cotton Bowlsroll from side to side and the foundations shake. And we’re enthusiastic in business. And we’re enthusiastic in emoluments, and in success, and in achievement, and in business. In every way that you can think of this world steps, their hearts pulse, their hearts beat and their minds are aflame, and everybody is in earnest.
But when it comes down to religion, why, we’re to be apathetic and lethargic and in nowise exhibit life and devotion and commitment. It’s sort of a thing that, oh, you do to be nice, but that’s about all. Go to church for respectability’s sake, but not much beyond. But as for real zeal and real gladness and real victory and real triumph, energy in it, well – weak! We’re saving ourselves for something else.
I have copied this out of a preacher’s magazine. Now, you listen to it:
The cluster of preachers gathered outside the convention hall in agreement, "Yes, shouting had become out of place in our modern church services" But, they paused in respect as an elderly pastor in their midst began to reminisce with a far-away look in his eye: "I can still remember the last time I shouted," he said quietly. "I remember it well. It was a glorious occasion. A wave of mighty power seemed to move through the crowd. In an instant, I found myself standing and violently waving my hands in the air. My legs grew weak. My voice was hoarse. Again and again, exultant words burst from my lips. All around me, others were joining in the same frenzied spirit." The old gentleman’s eyes fastened on the faces of those around him as he continued, "Some of you – some of you may think I was a fool. Maybe you’re calling me old-fashioned or even a fanatic. If so, it’s because you don’t realize the significance of what I had just witnessed. Indeed, it was worth shouting about. For you see, my brethren," he added almost in a whisper, "Our basketball team had just won the tournament." And the group quietly melted away.
Jesus says: "And it makes Me sick!" Tremendous energy and great commitment in all of the things that mind can imagine, except God and His church, except Christ and His work. The world is in earnest, and the devil is in earnest and the powers that drive in darkness are in earnest. And communism is in earnest, and the Soviet is in earnest, and materialism is in earnest, but God’s people are insipid and colorless, lukewarm, and compromised and divided, and follow afar off.
The only reason I emphasize it is this: there is no such thing as religion without that dead earnestness that includes the whole of the life and the soul. Religion is a fire in the bones. Religion is the commitment of life. Religion is God in the soul. You can’t help but feel it. It governs, and controls, and drives, and marches, and lives, and rises from the dead! This is religion. And it’s not Laodicean.
Another thing about this Laodicean church: the church at the end, when the Lord comes, what is it like? It says – and I cannot understand how people could be so self-deceived, could look upon themselves through eyes and see nothing but good for themselves. The Laodicean church is a self-deceived church.
The Lord said, "Let us turn it around."
They said, "I am rich!"
The Lord said, "You are poor!"
They said, "We are increased with goods for every happiness."
The Lord said: "You are wretched and miserable."
They said, "We have need of nothing. We have got everything."
And the Lord said, "You are blind and naked" [Revelation 3:17].
And the more lukewarm a church is, the more is it self-satisfied and self-contented. Why, you can stand in most of the churches in America, and cry, "Repent!"
And they would say, "Repent? What have I to repent of?"
If you were to cry for a great commitment to God, they’d say, "Well, what for? What’s the matter with us?"
Well, look, look, look – and the Lord says that they are self-deceived and self-satisfied and self-content because they are blind, wretched, and poor, and miserable, and do not know it [Revelation 3:17].
And look at the third thing about this Laodicean church. This is the end church. This is the church when the Lord comes back. And when He does, He is on the outside. He is not in. He is out there, knocking at the door. He is not in. He is outside [Revelation 3:20].
The Lord has been away on a long journey, as we read in the passage, to receive a kingdom for Himself, as we read in the passage [Luke 19:12]. And when He comes back, is the door of the church open to Him? And are they watching and waiting? And are they seeking and expecting? No, they forgot Him! They’re not watching. They’re not praying. They’re not doing anything, except finding a great satisfaction in themselves: "Rich and increased with goods," and I don’t need God. And I don’t need man. "I have got it all" [Revelation 3:17].
Oh, if you were to call America to prayer, America would say: "Why, pray? Pray? Well, look at our bombs and look at our submarines and look at all this, that, and the other." And there may be a few of our people that are down on their knees, beseeching God for an intervention in this awful hour of crisis, but I see no indication anywhere of a great turning back to God on the part of our people. It just isn’t in us.
We are too engrossed in the materialities of life. And our children are taught that way. Why, when you teach children that they come from a green scum, and when you teach children that all that there is of God in this world is an impersonal, inexorable, natural law, and when you teach children that the great end and aim of life is to be found in scientific materialism – whether it’s over there and call it Soviet – or, whether it is here and call it socialist, or materialist, or scientific, or whatever name, it’s the same thing: there’s no God. There’s no answer to prayer. There’s no need for repentance. There’s no need for crying aloud. That is the Laodicean church!
And when the Lord comes back, why, there’s a scientist in His place or a materialist or a socialist. There’s somebody else that’s in our heart besides God. And He is on the outside [Revelation 3:20].
This is the last hour of the church. The last meal is before the dawn. The last meal before the dawn is diepnon, diepnon. And the Greek word, you have it translated here: "I will sup with him" [Revelation 3:20]. Diepneo, the last meal before Christ comes in the great dawning, is the diepneo when He comes to break the final supper – break bread in the final supper with His people.
The Lord is on the outside, He is not in [Revelation 3:20]. You know, that’s a pitiful and a tragic thing. In John 1:11 it says that "The Lord came unto His own, the first time, "and His own received Him not." And how sad, how infinitely sadder, is it when the Lord comes this next time, this last time, and His own, they are not thinking about Him, they’re not loving him, their hearts are not set on Him, they’re not agonizing in prayer or repentance or confession. They’re busy about the things of the flesh and of the world. And He is on the outside [Revelation 3:20].
Now, how do you sum up an hour’s sermon in a moment or two? I would like to preach several sermons on this great passage here. But, I have determined I’m going to move on through this book. And then maybe sometime we can come back.
One of the profoundest truths that you’ll find, as we come to the conclusion and the end of the way, is in this. These letters all are addressed to ministers, to preachers, to congregations, to churches, to great fellowships. But in every instance, when the appeal is made, it is made to the individual heart.
The Lord may speak to the aggregate to reprimand and to denounce and to admonish and to counsel, but when He makes appeal, without exception, it always is to the individual heart.
Now, you look at it: "If any man hear" – one somebody – "hear My voice," as He speaks to the churches, "if anyone hear My voice, I will come in and sup with him" – individual [Revelation 3:20].
Now look again, the next verse: "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne" [Revelation 3:21]. Now, look, in the last: "He that hath an ear, let him hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" [Revelation 3:22]. "Be thou – singular – faithful unto death, and I will give thee – singular – a crown of life" [Revelation 2:10].
However the course of the world may go, and history may follow in a channel, and however the destiny of nations, always, the appeal of Christ is to the individual heart and the individual soul: "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" [Revelation 3:22]. That is the duty of the individual in the presence of God, the great address to the nations and kingdoms and churches of the world.
But, always, the duty of the individual is to hear for himself, not to hide under the great conglomerate and the multitudinous aggregate of the great congregation, but for me – for me, for me. And that is the tremendous emphasis and strength of the Christian faith: always, the individual in building the wall of the temple of God – the stone, one by one.
And there’s no other way that a congregation can hear except as its people personally listen, hearing. A congregation can’t hear except as the individual listens, as He speaks to the churches: "He that hath an ear, let him hear" [Revelation 3:22].
What does God say? No one of us can eat for the other. No one of us could sleep for the other. So it is no one can repent for somebody else. No one can believe for somebody else. No one can die for somebody else. And no one can be judged for somebody else. We die for ourselves. We stand before God for ourselves. We must repent for ourselves. We must trust God for ourselves. We must bring for ourselves our souls to Jesus.
O Lord, I’m not what I ought to be. I’m not what I could be. Lord, help me to be all God would have me be. That is the appeal of Christ. I have a moment or two left. The great reward: "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne" [Revelation 3:21].
There are two thrones: one, the throne of omnipotence, the great invisible God, unapproachable, high above the highest heaven – God, and our Savior, co-regent, co-eternal sitting down, deity Himself, God. We will never see that, I do not think. Nor could we ever approach it and live.
There is another throne. This is the throne of the Lord Christ, who was the Son of Mary, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, the Son of Adam, made in the likeness of mortal men with flesh and blood and bones, just as we have, made like unto His brethren [Philippians 2:7]. Like those of the seed of Abraham, our Lord was a man. And in His manhood, was He raised from the dead [Matthew 28:5-7]. And in His manhood, shall He sit down in His throne. And the reins of government and empire of kingdoms, of glory, are all in His hands [Revelation 11:15] – our Lord, and we shall be His fellow servants [Revelation 22:3]. That’s why I had you read the passage that you read this morning out of Luke [Luke 19:11-27].
When these cartoonists draw our future home in glory, almost always they have got us on cloud eight or nine or twelve. And there we sit, with some kind of funny-looking wings, strumming on some kind of a funny-looking harp. And that is to be our future, they say.
Well, an eternity without end – why, such luxuriating idleness and such celestial emptiness and vacuity is impossible to conceive of. Well, what are you going to do out there in the world that is to come?
Why, ah, let’s preach about it for a minute. What you going to do? The sixth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, the second verse, says we are going to sit with Christ on His throne, to judge all creation, the angels and the saints and those living and dead and all the world of God [1 Corinthians 6:2].
And then, in the passage that you read, God said to this faithful man: "I am going to put you over ten cities." And God said to this faithful man: "I will put you over five cities" [Luke 19:16-19].
And the Lord has a great administration out there, governing this whole universe! And the man was first created to be the express image of the invisible God [Genesis 1:27-27] and to be God’s glory and delight forever, for view, for perspicuity, for seeing, for doing in the name of God: that’s what we’re going to do in all eternity. We’re going to live. We’re going to move. We’re going to grow. We’re going to act. We’re going to be for God. And the Lord will assign me some planet out there and put me a few thousand people on it and let me preach to them, and I don’t have to stop at twelve o’clock, man, what a day and what an hour for this preacher! Think of it. Think of it – just preach for a thousand years and then get my breath at the first comma, and go right on.
Oh, man hasn’t thought and heart hasn’t imaged nor has it entered into a man to devise what God’s going to do with us out there in glory – great things, marvelous things! "To him that overcometh, he will sit with Me in My throne" [Revelation 3:2], to administer, to rejoice, to be glad, to be busy, to be with God.
We’ll sing our song of appeal and while we sing the song of appeal, somebody, this morning, to give his heart to Jesus; somebody to put his life with us in the fellowship of the church, on the first note of the first stanza, would you come and stand by me? "Preacher, I give you my hand. I give my heart to God. And here I am." Or, "Pastor, we’re coming into the fellowship of the church."
In that topmost balcony to that last row of seats, there’s time and to spare to come down one of these stairways on either side. And in this press of people in this lower floor, somebody you would come. While we reverently, hopefully, prayerfully, earnestly, sing the song of appeal, make it this morning. "Pastor, I give you my hand. I give my heart to God. In the great assize, in that vast ultimate rendezvous, in the gathering of God’s children, let me be one, blessed Jesus, and here I am. And here I come." Make it this morning. Make it now. On the first note of the first stanza, come, while all of us reverently stand and sing together.
THE LAST, THE LAODICEAN CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The history of the city reflected in the text
A. "Laodicea" (Revelation 3:14)
1. Founded by Antiochus II, named for his wife
2. Located 40 miles southeast of Philadelphia, where Lycus River broadens out into Maeander Valley
3. Four of the great churches of ancient Christendom founded in Lycus Valley – Hierapolis, Laodicea, Colosse, Apamea(Colossians 4:13-17)
a. Their famous pastors
B. "Lukewarm"(Revelation 3:15-16)
1. Mineral springs at Laodicea
2. When springs is cold or hot you can drink it, but when it is lukewarm it is nauseating
C. "I am rich"(Revelation 3:17)
2. Wherever Seleucids founded a city they invited and offered free citizenship to the Jews, because they brought trade with them
3. Flaccus interdicted export of gold
a. Once a year every adult male Jew over 21 had to send one-half shekel temple tax to Jerusalem, so they disregarded the ban, turned their shekels into gold and sent it anyway
b. Flaccus seized the gold – weighed 20 pounds, which made 15,000 drachmas; one-half shekel is two drachmas; that means there were 7,500 adult male heads of Jewish families in that city
4. It was a banking center
II. The Laodicean Age
A. Church at Laodicea represents the last period of church history
1. All seven depict developments in the story of the churches of Christ
2. Every one of these churches Christ commends, except Laodicea
B. Lukewarm(Revelation 3:15-16)
1. Indifferent to the truth, doctrine and teaching of God
2. Indifferent in commitment
3. Indifferent in devotion
a. No zeal, warmth, earnestness
b. Enthusiastic about everything else but religion
c. Article from preachers’ magazine – modern shouting
d. Religions is a fire in the bones
C. Self-deceived(Revelation 3:17)
1. The more lukewarm, the more self-satisfied and self-contented
D. Christ is on the outside(Revelation 3:20)
1. When He comes, are they watching and waiting?(Luke 18:8)
a. Think there’s no need for repentance, no need for prayer
2. When He came the first time, He was not received(John 1:11)
III. The final appeal – to hear(Revelation 3:20, 22)
A. Letters addressed to ministers, congregations, churches – but in every instance the appeal is made to the individual heart
1. What is said to the body is made the duty of each individual person
2. It is the nature of Christianity to emphasize the individual
3. Congregation can’t hear except as its people personally listen
IV. The great reward(Revelation 3:21)
A. There are two thrones
1. The Father’s throne – throne of omnipotence, the absolute God, unapproachable
2. Christ’s own throne – in His manhood He shall sit down in His thrown to rule and reign
a. We shall be His fellow servants(1 Corinthians 6:2-3, Luke 19:16-19)