Laodicea: The Church with Jesus on the Outside, Part 2

Revelation 3:14-22

Click on this link to read the verses. I will quotes the verses as I explain them.

Laodicea colonade street

The ancient colonnade street in Laodicea. Much of what has already been excavated in Laodicea has undergone restoration. Anatolia News Agency

We must not have a false concept of where we are spiritually.

vs. 17 For you say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing,” not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

There was a terrible gap between what what they thought they were and what they actually were. Perhaps they thought that their riches were a sign of God’s blessing. In this case they were “health and wealth” Christians in the first century.

They were satisfied with material wealth and had not paid attention to spiritual wealth as the church at Smyrna had (cf. Rev. 2:9).

All of the following five adjectives are tied together with one definite article:

Wretched — in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) in Psalm 137:8, the Greek word is used to describe one’s life when everything one owned has been plundered by war. Here it refers to the true spiritual condition of the Laodiceans.

Pitiable = “miserable, deserving of nothing but pity.”

Poor, blind, and naked — These words strike at the heart of their problem. They had great riches materially, they had eye salve from their medical schools, and they had clothing made from their famous black wool. Spiritually, they had nothing. They were destitute spiritually.

laodicea church ruins

The early church at Laodicea. Photo: Dr. Celal Simsek/Laodikeia excavation.

vs. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.

Note that the true riches, spiritual clothing and medicine for the soul, is from God.

vs. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

His call is not to the unsaved here. It is for Christians who have lost their way and are in danger of blending into their culture and civilization.

vs. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

“Christ’s words here are probably based on the words spoken to the bride in Song of Solomon 5:2, “A voice! My beloved was knocking: ‘Open to me …'” (see Beale, pg. 93, below). These are words spoken to believers who have grown far away from their Lord and need to return.

Laodicea Theater Ruin reconctructed

Restoration and excavation work of a 2,200-year-old theater located in the ancient city of Laodicea in Turkey’s southwestern Denizli province. from

vs. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

Believers will be seated as royalty in the consummation of the Kingdom.

vs. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

I remind us that the challenge is for us to read other people’s mail in this case. John says, “Let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches (plural).” Churches today that are in danger of blending into the surrounding pagan culture should pay heed! They will not escape the judgment that befell the Laodicean Church of old. All that is left is the ruins. 

See previous explanation for this verse in the Rev. 2:7 post.


Beale, G. K. (2015). Revelation: a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.

Bible Background. (1967). Zondervan’s Pictorial Bible Dictionary, 1 Vol. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing.

Josephus, F. (AD 94) Antiquities of the Jews XII. Loeb Classical Library.

Laodicea. (1854). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, illustrated by numerous engravings on wood. ed. William Smith, LLD. Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co.

Laodicea becoming the New Ephesus. (2011). Accessed May 1, 2019 from

Ramsay, W. (1904). The Letters to the Seven Churches in Asia and their Place in the Plan of the Apocalypse. London, UK: Hodder and Stoughton. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press. 

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

Laodicea: The Church with Jesus on the Outside, Part 1

Revelation 3:14-22

Click on this link to read the verses. I will quotes the verses as I explain them.

I once heard of a preacher who came to America from the Far East for the first time. He was given a tour of a mega-Church by its pastor. The pastor showed the visitor all of the facilities and described all of the extensive mega-Church’s ministries. The tour guide ended by stating, “You name it. We’ve got it!” The Asian Pastor asked, “When was the last time you had revival?” The pastor scratched his head, paused for a while, and answered, “We don’t need it!”

This is the spirit of the Church in Laodicea. Its members are self-satisfied and seeking nothing beyond what they have. Let’s look at the Oracle to Laodicea’s message to us in the 21st Century.

Our usefulness to God is not tied to our descent or illustrious history.

vs. 14a And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write…

Click on this link to Zondervan Encyclopedia on Laodicea if you want to read more on the history of Laodicea (see Laodicea below).

The Hellenistic ruler Antiochus II (261-246 BC) named the town for his first wife, Laodikē (“justice of the people”). Laodicea was the wealthiest city in the Lycus valley region. It was famous for its black wool.


Ruins of the colonnade at Laodicea (WikiMedia Commons)


“God [Zeus] whom the Laodiceans worship” see Ramsay, p. 418, below

The city had many banks. “Laodicea minted its own coins several centuries before the Christian era, expressing upon them the attributions and inscriptions of the ancient gods.” (see coin pictured left). After the great earthquake in AD 60, the city refused imperial aid and rebuilt out of its own treasury.

It was famous for its medical school and eye salve (known as “Phrygian powder”). The only deficiency was a poor water supply.

It had a large Jewish population. “According to Josephus, Antiochus the Great (III) settled 2,000 Jewish families in Phrygia and Lydia after deporting them from Babylon” (See Josephus below, Book 12, section 147-149).

The church was possibly founded on Paul’s third missionary journey while he was staying in Ephesus (40 miles west). Also, some believe it may have been founded by Epaphras (Col. 4:12-13). “Laodicea is the only church that is not commended by Jesus Christ.” (see Bible Background below.)

Jesus sees us as we are

vs. 14b The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

Though all these images are not in the vision in Rev. 1:14-16, most are found at the beginning of the chapter. See Rev. 1:5 and “from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.”

“Christ as the beginning of God’s creation refers here not to the events surrounding the world’s creation and foundation but to the resurrection, the new creation expected in the latter days, in the same way as Paul describes Christ as “the beginning, the first-born from the dead” in Col. 1:18” (see Beale, pg. 90, below).

vs. 15 I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!

Left is a cool stream near Colossae; right is hot bathing pools in Hieropolis. Both are modern photographs from Bible Places and WikiMedia.

This letter is the most preached on of the seven. Unfortunately, most sermons are based on a false interpretation of the “hot and cold” characteristics. 

“Lukewarm” is a reference to the fact that the city did not have a good water supply. Either, the water came from hot springs near Hieropolis, 7 miles away, and arrived tepid, or it came from cold springs near Colosse, 10 miles away, and arrived tepid from the sun. In either case, the water would be “lukewarm” and not fit to drink.

We should not try to make the connection between hot water and spiritual zeal. Nor should we make the connection between cold water and a lack of spiritual zeal. This would have been totally unfamiliar to the 1st century Christians. These are strictly modern idioms (see Beale below).

hierapolis map

Map of the location of the Tri-cites of the Lycus valley (source)

More on Laodicea next time.


Beale, G. K. (2015). Revelation: a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.

Bible Background. (1967). Zondervan’s Pictorial Bible Dictionary, 1 Vol. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing.

Josephus, F. (AD 94) Antiquities of the Jews XII. Loeb Classical Library.

“Laodicea.” (1854). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, illustrated by numerous engravings on wood. ed. William Smith, LLD. Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co.

Ramsay, W. (1904). The Letters to the Seven Churches in Asia and their Place in the Plan of the Apocalypse. London, UK: Hodder and Stoughton. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press. 

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

Philadelphia: The Church on Shaky Ground, Part 2

Revelation 3:7-13

Click on this link to read the passage.

God alone decides the atmosphere for our ministry in the community.

The church in John’s day was at odds with its community in every way. Tacitus, Roman historian AD 56 – ca.  120, says this about the beginning of hostility of Rome toward Christians —


Tacitus Roman Historian

“Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace… Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who confessed [to being Christians]; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of arson, as of hatred of the human race. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames. These served to illuminate the night when daylight failed” (see Tacitus, below; click on this link to read the entire passage).

What was at odds with Rome was automatically at odds with Asia Minor’s citizens. Jews were a legal religion. They paid a tax in lieu of sacrificing to pagan deities or the Emperor. After AD 64, Christianity was separated from Judaism. Christianity was no longer afforded legal status as a Jewish sect.

Today, it seems everyone is against Christians. If we believe and practice the Bible, society is at odds with us. We may grow discouraged about our lives in the public forum. How did things get this way? Those of us who have lived long know our world was not always this way. I confess I often think, I wish I had been born under better circumstances or perhaps in an another age. 

LOTRsI am reminded of a conversation in the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Frodo is lamenting that evil had to occur in his time and that he had to live through it.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” 

All who live through tribulation share Frodo’s wish. Ultimately it is for the Lord of Glory to decide which times in which we live and minister. He holds us in the midst of trial! 

What hurts us most is having former friends against us when we stand against false teaching. 

vs. 9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.

“The Christians in Philadelphia (Rev 3:7–13) evidently also experienced opposition from local Jews; this is suggested by the fact that John refers to the Jews of Philadelphia as belonging to ‘the synagogue of Satan’ (Rev 3:9), just as the Jews of Smyrna.” (see Schnabel, below).

Judaism & Christianity

After the persecution of Christians under Nero (AD 64 fire in Rome), Jews joined in with pagans to persecute Christians in Asia Minor. Judaism was a licit (legal) religion. Christianity after AD 64 was illicit (illegal) since they were no longer a sect of Judaism. Such persecution was not empire-wide at all times, however.

It is obvious that Jews wanted to be viewed as loyal Romans, so they didn’t want to be confused with Christians. Philadelphia was a place where Jews wanted the distinction to be made absolutely clear. They turned on former attendees at the synagogue — Christians. Christians are the true people of God. Jews that oppose Christ are a synagogue of Satan when they persecute God’s people.

Jesus had warned of this in Matthew 10 — 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.

Will our enemies be converted or judged?

“I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.” This is a reference to Isaiah 45:14; 49:23; and 60:14.

(1) Some see in this verse a fulfillment of Romans 11:25-26. Israel as a nation will be saved in the future and will pay homage to the church as being right.
(2) Others see it as a fulfillment of Phil. 2:10-11. All people who reject Christ and his church will come before the church and pay homage in the end.

At some times, God converts our enemies and His. However, when they are not converted, they serve His purposes unwittingly. See Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 50:15-20. What the brothers meant for evil, God overruled for Joseph’s good! God will do that for us, as well.

God protects His people while they are in the midst of trial

vs. 10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.

This is a reference to Luke 21:19 “By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (cf. Heb. 10:36).

I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world.” “From” is ek, in Greek. It means “out of.” For many this means removal from tribulation. However, this is not the case. It depends on the context.

Ek from the hour cropped

“Keep” is best translated “protect” here. Note carefully how it is used in John 17:15. Both times in John he uses ek. The keeping from the evil one is within the sphere of the trial. Jesus specifically says that he did not ask for his church to be removed from the world. He asked that they be kept from (ek) the Evil One. Also compare Acts 15:29 and Prov. 21:23. In some contexts apo and ek are used to indicate the same thing.

Trial shows the true character of the one experiencing it. 

“That is going to come on the whole world.” The word for “world” is oikoumenê — the inhabited earth. We derive the English word “ecumenical” from it. Local tribulation in “hot spots” around Asia Minor would become widespread in the Empire after John’s day.

“Test” is peirasmós in Greek meaning “adversity, affliction, trouble sent by God and serving to test or prove one’s faith, holiness, character.” (see Thayer below.) Testing proves what we really are. Ungodly people are shown to be just that by trials — unbelievers who are against God and His people. On the other hand, testing confirms true believers as genuine. We don’t give in, give out or give up!

The “earth-dwellers” is a stock phrase in Revelation to indicate those who are rebellious unbelievers (cf. Rev. 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 14; 17:8) and persecutors of God’s people. They are fully at home here. God’s people are a pilgrim people. We know our true home is with Christ in the new heavens and new earth. We are never fully at home on the earth! Click on this link to see this pilgrim theology Hebrews 11:13-16.

Perseverance is necessary for the Christian in the midst of trial

vs. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.

The word for “crown” is stephanos = victor’s crown. It is not the diadem of a monarch (see the comments on Rev. 2:10)

God gives His people stability in an unstable environment

vs. 12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.

“A pillar in the temple of my God” refers to the practice of honoring a person by erecting a special pillar in the temple (naos — inner sanctuary) with the person’s name on it. The pillar was important in a city where earthquakes were quite common and destructive. Oftentimes, the only thing left after an earthquake hit were the pillars of the temples. After God shakes this old world, the only thing that will remain are his pillars!

For vs. 13 see the comments on Rev. 2:7 in the Letter to Ephesus post, part 2.

Next time, we move on to Laodicea.


Ladd, G. E. (1972). A Commentary on the Revelation of John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. Ladd writes from the historic pre-millennial position a commentary for lay persons.  

Schnabel. “Jewish Opposition to Christians in Asia Minor in the First Century.” Accessed March 4, 2019 from

Tacitus. (AD 56 – c.120). Annals, xv.44.2–8. Accessed March 4, 2019 from

Thayer. (1889). Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Accessed March 6, 2019 from

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

Philadelphia: The Church on Shaky Ground, Part 1

Revelation 3:7-13

Click on this link to read this passage.

Historical focus on the city of Philadelphia

(Ancient ruins of the Amphitheater at Philadelphia pictured above.)

vs. 7a And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write… .

I have already pointed out in earlier posts that the history and cultural climate of the city affect the churches in Asia Minor. We also need to see this is true of us today in the modern world. But first, Philadelphia of the first century.

Philadelphia_ruins 1875

Philadelphia (ruins pictured above in 1875) was the imperial outpost on the trade route from Troas to points East. Several violent earthquakes occurred there. One in A.D. 17 devastated the city. Tremors continued for years to come. There was a sense of being on unstable ground. Many moved outside the walls to the safer countryside.

The name “Philadelphia,” which means “brotherly love,” commemorated the love of Attalus II for his brother Eumenes II, King of Pergamum. On occasion, a false rumor was circulated that Eumenes had been assassinated. His brother Attalus assumed the crown of Pergamum. Upon learning that Eumenes was alive, his brother Attalus gave the crown back. The Romans constantly sought, in vain, to get Attalus to take the crown from his brother Eumenes, but Attalus steadfastly refused because of his love for his brother.

Sick_young_Bacchus_by_Caravaggio.jpgThe town was nicknamed “little Athens” because of the many pagan temples and practices in the city. Due to the prevalence of the wine industry there, it was the center for the worship of the god Dionysus (“Sick Young Baachus,” pictured left/above by Caravaggio, 1593; from WikiMedia).

Philadelphia was a “missionary” city spreading Greek culture East. It was the smallest of the seven cities in the Revelation. Yet, the city held out as a “Christian city” against the Moslem invaders until A.D. 1392. (see Background Material below).

Christ alone determines the circumstances of His people.

vs. 7b The words of the Holy One, the True One, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. [See ESV below.]

Christ is the Holy One and the True One in all His ways!  The two descriptive terms are not adjectives (as in the NIV), but titles of Christ (as in the ESV). (See Isaiah 40:25; Habakkuk 3:3; and Isaiah 46:1 where). The presence of the definite article (“the”) preceding each word make them titles of God the Father in the OT. Association with Christ in the NT again puts him squarely in the Trinity. (see Fee; p. 56,  below.)

Key of DavidThe background to the image of the key of David is Isaiah 22:20-23. The “key” is the symbol of office. It gave the holder the authority to exercise the power of his office. In this case, it signifies that Jesus is the true Messiah. He alone has the right to open and close the kingdom. Christ opens a sphere of ministry for us and no one can take it away. This truth is vital for those persecuted for the faith.

Christ alone causes our ministry to be successful.

John Calvin said this of success in Gospel proclamation

It is the will of our Master that his gospel [should] be preached. Let us obey his command, and follow wherever he calls. What the success will be it is not ours to inquire. Our only duty is to wish for what is best, and beseech it of the Lord in prayer; to strive with all zeal, solicitude, and diligence, to bring about the desired result, and, at the same time, to submit with patience to whatever that result may be. (see Necessity of Reforming the Church below.) 

vs. 8a I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.

The perfect tense signifies that the door had been opened in the past and still stood open in the present when John wrote. The open door could mean one of two things: either (1) an opportunity for missionary activity; or (2) the ability to enter the kingdom. In the past the city was founded to be the one which spread Greek culture and learning eastward. Jesus had much broader plans for the church in that city. And He has more for us than the spread of pop-culture to the rest of the world!

21st Century Application

We are witnessing the movement of large populations from outside our country to inside it. Political parties are divided as to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. We as Christians must find a mission in our present circumstances.

Chaos always ensues when people from one nation invade another one. Yet, this is an opportunity for the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Unsaved people who could not hear the Gospel in their countries of origin can now hear it in the USA. Our task is to proclaim the Gospel to the immigrants. We are not to minister only to their physical needs. We are not to introduce them to the American way, customs, English, etc. We are to proclaim “sanctuary” for them in Christ as their hiding place and refuge from sin. (Psalm 119:114; see ESV below). 


Our physical resources do not make our ministry successful

vs. 8b I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

That “they had but little power” is possibly a reference to the fact that the church in Philadelphia was a small congregation. It had little influence in the community as far as size went.

How often we seek out people of influence to give us power and success in the modern world. We wrongly think they have the keys to open doors for us. I like what Vance Havner once said, “You don’t have to know key people when you know the One who holds the keys!”


Are you perhaps one of the “little people” in a “small place”? Is your church a little place made up of little people? You may feel you have little influence. Francis Schaeffer reminds us with God “there are no little places and no little people.” (To read Francis Schaefer’s encouraging sermon click on this link.)

I was privileged to be present at Reformed Theology Seminary in Jackson, MS for a speaker of unusual influence, Rev. John Reed Miller.

After being pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS from 1952-1968, he took the pastorate of Macon (MS) Presbyterian Church from 1969-1973.  Many asked him why he went from a large church to a smaller one. I will never forget his reply! “There are no small churches. All churches are large in the lives of its members.” 

After retirement from the full-time ministry in 1973, Dr. Miller “downsized further” when he returned to Jackson, MS, where he taught a weekly evening Bible study that was widely attended. He continued an active pastoral ministry with young and old, devoting much concern to young ministers and those preparing for the gospel ministry. (see John Reed Miller below).

“After physical infirmities confined him to a nursing home, he began speaking God’s Word in season to those around him.” He died in 1997 (at age 89).” (see Officers Training Manual, p. 23, below). 

God decides the when and where of our ministry. He also gives success whether we have large spheres of influence or small. Our task is to be faithful to the opportunities He has given to us. We leave the results to Him. Click on this link to read I Corinthians 3:5-9

More next time on Philadelphia churches.


Background Material. These facts are in most Bible Commentaries and Dictionaries. I used Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible for reference to this material. It is available in text form on

ESV. English Standard Version. Accessed from

Fee, G. (2010). Revelation (New Covenant Commentary Series) Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

John Reed Miller. (1908-1997) FindaGrave Memorial ID#107962162. Accessed March 5, 2019 from; also contains information on Mrs. Elizabeth S[tover] Miller (1906-1986) on the same Tombstone

Necessity of Reforming the Church. (1543). Written by John Calvin. Accessed 5 August 2019 from

Officers Training Manual. (2008). First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS. Accessed March 5, 2019 from

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved