Buy Gold Refined by Fire
1, 2. What is the location of the last of the seven congregations to receive a message from the glorified Jesus, and what are some features of the city?
LAODICEA is last of the seven congregations to receive a message from the resurrected Jesus. And what eye-opening, stimulating information it conveys!
2 Today, you would find the ruins of Laodicea near Denizli, about 55 miles southeast of Alasehir. In the first century, Laodicea was a prosperous city. Sitting on a major road junction, it was a key center for banking and commerce. Sale of a well-known eye salve added to its wealth, and it was also famous for its high-quality garments produced locally from a fine black wool. Lack of water, a major problem for the city, had been overcome by channeling water down from hot springs some distance away. Thus, the water would be only lukewarm by the time it arrived in the city.
3. How does Jesus open his message to the congregation in Laodicea?
3 Laodicea was near Colossae. In writing to the Colossians, the apostle Paul mentions a letter that he had sent to the Laodiceans. (Colossians 4:15, 16) We do not know what Paul wrote in that letter, but the message that Jesus now sends to the Laodiceans shows that they have fallen into a woeful spiritual condition. As usual, though, Jesus first cites his own credentials, saying: “And to the angel of the congregation in Laodicea write: These are the things that the Amen says, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation by God.”—Revelation 3:14.
4. How is Jesus “the Amen”?
4 Why does Jesus call himself “the Amen”? This title adds judicial weight to his message. “Amen” is a transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning “surely,” “so be it,” and is used at the end of prayers to affirm the sentiments expressed therein. (1 Corinthians 14:16) Jesus is “the Amen” because his flawless integrity and sacrificial death confirmed and guaranteed the fulfillment of all of Jehovah’s precious promises. (2 Corinthians 1:20) Since that time, all prayers are properly addressed to Jehovah through Jesus.—John 15:16; 16:23, 24.
5. In what way is Jesus “the faithful and true witness”?
5 Jesus is also “the faithful and true witness.” In prophecy he is often associated with faithfulness, truth, and righteousness, for he is completely trustworthy as a servant of Jehovah God. (Psalm 45:4; Isaiah 11:4, 5; Revelation 1:5; 19:11) He is the greatest Witness for Jehovah. In fact, as “the beginning of the creation by God,” Jesus has declared God’s glory from the very start. (Proverbs 8:22-30) As a man on earth, he bore witness to the truth. (John 18:36, 37; 1 Timothy 6:13) After his resurrection, he promised holy spirit to his disciples and told them: “You will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.” From Pentecost 33 C.E. onward, Jesus directed these anointed Christians in preaching the good news “in all creation that is under heaven.” (Acts 1:6-8; Colossians 1:23) Truly, Jesus deserves to be called the faithful and true witness. The anointed Christians in Laodicea would benefit by listening to his words.
6. (a) How does Jesus describe the spiritual condition of the congregation in Laodicea? (b) What fine example of Jesus have the Christians in Laodicea failed to follow?
6 What message does Jesus have for the Laodiceans? He has no word of commendation. Frankly, he tells them: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or else hot. So, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15, 16) How would you respond to such a message from the Lord Jesus Christ? Would you not awaken and examine yourself? Surely, those Laodiceans need to bestir themselves, for they have become spiritually indolent, apparently taking too much for granted. (Compare 2 Corinthians 6:1.) Jesus, whom they as Christians should have imitated, always displays a fiery zeal for Jehovah and his service. (John 2:17) Further, meek ones have found him to be always gentle and mild, as refreshing as a cup of cold water on a swelteringly hot day. (Matthew 11:28, 29) But the Christians in Laodicea are neither hot nor cold. Like the waters that flow down into their city, they have become tepid, lukewarm. They are liable to be completely rejected by Jesus, ‘vomited out of his mouth’! May we for our part always strive zealously, as did Jesus, to provide spiritual refreshment for others.—Matthew 9:35-38.
“You Say: ‘I Am Rich’”
7. (a) How does Jesus identify the root of the problem of the Christians in Laodicea? (b) Why does Jesus say that Laodicean Christians are “blind and naked”?
7 What really is the root of the Laodiceans’ problem? We get a good idea from Jesus’ next words: “Because you say: ‘I am rich and have acquired riches and do not need anything at all,’ but you do not know you are miserable and pitiable and poor and blind and naked.” (Revelation 3:17; compare Luke 12:16-21.) Living in a wealthy city, they feel confident because of their riches. Likely, their way of life has been affected by the stadium, theaters, and gymnasiums, so that they have become “lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God.” * (2 Timothy 3:4) But the materially rich Laodiceans are impoverished spiritually. They have few, if any, ‘treasures stored up in heaven.’ (Matthew 6:19-21) They have not kept their eye simple, giving first place in their lives to God’s Kingdom. They are really in darkness, blind, with no spiritual vision. (Matthew 6:22, 23, 33) Moreover, in spite of the fine garments that their material wealth may have purchased, in Jesus’ eyes they are naked. They have no spiritual garments to identify them as Christians.—Compare Revelation 16:15.
8. (a) In what way does a situation like that in Laodicea exist also today? (b) How have some Christians deceived themselves in this greedy world?
8 What a shocking condition! But do we not often see a similar situation nowadays? What is the root cause? It is a self-confident attitude that springs from reliance upon material possessions and human resources. Like Christendom’s churchgoers, some of Jehovah’s people have deceived themselves, thinking that they can please God by merely attending meetings occasionally. They try to get by as merely token “doers of the word.” (James 1:22) Despite repeated warnings from the John class, they set their hearts on stylish clothes, cars, and homes, and on a life centered on recreation and pleasure. (1 Timothy 6:9, 10; 1 John 2:15-17) All of this results in a dulling of spiritual perception. (Hebrews 5:11, 12) Instead of being listlessly lukewarm, they need to rekindle “the fire of the spirit” and show refreshing eagerness to “preach the word.”—1 Thessalonians 5:19; 2 Timothy 4:2, 5.
9. (a) What words of Jesus should jolt lukewarm Christians, and why? (b) How may straying “sheep” be helped by the congregation?
9 How does Jesus regard lukewarm Christians? His candid words should jolt them: “You do not know you are miserable and pitiable and poor and blind and naked.” Their consciences are numbed to the point that they do not even realize their appalling state. (Compare Proverbs 16:2; 21:2.) This serious condition in the congregation cannot be lightly brushed aside. By setting a fine example of zeal and by shepherding in love, elders and others assigned by them may be able to awaken these straying “sheep” to their former joy of wholehearted service.—Luke 15:3-7.
Counsel on ‘Becoming Rich’
10. What is the “gold” that Jesus tells the Christians in Laodicea to buy from him?
10 Is there a cure for the sad situation in Laodicea? Yes, if those Christians will follow Jesus’ counsel: “I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire that you may become rich.” (Revelation 3:18a) True Christian “gold,” refined by fire and with all the dross removed, will make them “rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21) Where can they buy such gold? Not from the local bankers but from Jesus! The apostle Paul explained what that gold is when he told Timothy to give orders to wealthy Christians “to work at good, to be rich in fine works, to be liberal, ready to share, safely treasuring up for themselves a fine foundation for the future.” Only by expending themselves in this way could they “get a firm hold on the real life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19) The materially wealthy Laodiceans should have followed Paul’s advice and thus become spiritually rich.—See also Proverbs 3:13-18.
11. What modern-day examples do we have of those buying “gold refined by fire”?
11 Are there modern-day examples of those buying “gold refined by fire”? Yes, there are! Even while the Lord’s day was approaching, a small group of Bible students was awakening to the falsity of Christendom’s many Babylonish teachings, such as the Trinity, immortality of the soul, hellfire torment, infant baptism, and worship of images (including the cross and those of Mary). In championing Bible truth, these Christians proclaimed Jehovah’s Kingdom as mankind’s only hope and Jesus’ ransom sacrifice as the basis for salvation. Almost 40 years ahead of time, they pointed to 1914 as the year marked in Bible prophecy as the end of the times of the Gentiles, accompanied by startling developments on earth.—Revelation 1:10.
12. Who was one of those taking the lead among awakening Christians, and how did he set an outstanding example in storing up treasures in heaven?
12 Taking the lead among these awakening Christians was Charles Taze Russell, who, in the early 1870’s, formed a Bible study class in Allegheny (now part of Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania, U.S.A. When he started his search for truth, Russell was in partnership with his father and on his way to becoming a millionaire. But he sold out his chain-store business interests and spent his fortune in helping to finance the publishing of God’s Kingdom in all the earth. In 1884 Russell became the first president of the corporation now known as the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. In 1916 he died on a train near Pampa, Texas, en route to New York, exhausted by his final preaching tour of the western United States. He set an outstanding example of storing up spiritual treasures in heaven, an example that is today followed by hundreds of thousands of self-sacrificing pioneer ministers.—Hebrews 13:7; Luke 12:33, 34; compare 1 Corinthians 9:16; 11:1.
Applying Spiritual Eye Salve
13. (a) How will spiritual eye salve improve the condition of the Laodiceans? (b) What kind of garments does Jesus recommend, and why?
13 Jesus also sternly admonishes those Laodiceans: “Buy . . . white outer garments that you may become dressed and that the shame of your nakedness may not become manifested, and eyesalve to rub in your eyes that you may see.” (Revelation 3:18b) They should seek a cure for their spiritual blindness by purchasing curative eye salve, not that of the local healers, but of the kind that only Jesus can provide. This would help them to get spiritual discernment, helping them to walk in “the path of the righteous ones” with their beaming eyes focused on doing God’s will. (Proverbs 4:18, 25-27) Thus, they may put on, not the costly garments of black wool made locally in Laodicea, but fine “white outer garments” that proclaim their privileged identity as followers of Jesus Christ.—Compare 1 Timothy 2:9, 10; 1 Peter 3:3-5.
14. (a) What spiritual eye salve has been available since 1879? (b) What has been the ultimate source of the financial backing of Jehovah’s Witnesses? (c) In the use of contributions, how do Jehovah’s Witnesses differ from others?
14 Is spiritual eye salve available in modern times? Assuredly it is! In 1879 Pastor Russell, as he was affectionately called, began to publish in defense of truth the magazine that is known worldwide today as The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom. In its second issue, he declared: “[This magazine] has, we believe, JEHOVAH for its backer, and while this is the case it will never beg nor petition men for support. When He who says: ‘All the gold and silver of the mountains are mine,’ fails to provide necessary funds, we will understand it to be time to suspend the publication.” Some television evangelists have amassed vast fortunes and lived in shameless (and sometimes immoral) luxury. (Revelation 18:3) In contrast, the Bible Students, known today as Jehovah’s Witnesses, have used all the unsolicited contributions received to organize and advance the worldwide preaching of Jehovah’s incoming Kingdom. The John class to this day directs the publishing of The Watchtower and Awake!, which magazines had a combined circulation in 2006 of more than 59 million. The Watchtower is available in about 150 languages. It is the official journal of a congregation of more than six million Christians who have used such spiritual eye salve in getting their eyes opened to false religion and to the urgency of preaching the good news in all the nations.—Mark 13:10.
Benefiting From Reproof and Discipline
15. Why does Jesus give strong counsel to the Christians in Laodicea, and how should the congregation react to it?
15 Let us return to the Laodiceans. How will they respond to the severe counsel from Jesus? Should they be disheartened and feel that Jesus no longer wants them as his followers? No, that is not the case at all. The message goes on to say: “All those for whom I have affection I reprove and discipline. Therefore be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19) As with discipline from Jehovah, Jesus’ discipline is a sign of his love. (Hebrews 12:4-7) The Laodicean congregation should take advantage of his affectionate concern and apply his counsel. They should repent, recognizing that their lukewarmness amounts to sinning. (Hebrews 3:12, 13; James 4:17) Let their elders put materialistic ways behind them and “stir up like a fire” the gift they have from God. With the spiritual eye salve taking effect, let all in the congregation find refreshment as from a cooling draft of cold springwater.—2 Timothy 1:6; Proverbs 3:5-8; Luke 21:34.
16. (a) How are Jesus’ love and affection displayed today? (b) If we receive strong counsel, how should we react?
16 What of us today? Jesus continues to ‘love his own that are in the world.’ This he will do “all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (John 13:1; Matthew 28:20) His love and affection are displayed through the modern-day John class and the stars, or elders, in the Christian congregation. (Revelation 1:20) In these very trying times, the elders are deeply interested in helping all of us, old and young, to keep within the confines of the theocratic fold, resisting the independence, the materialistic greed, and the immoral filth of the world. If we receive strong counsel or discipline at times, remember that “the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.” (Proverbs 6:23) All of us are imperfect and should be zealous to repent as necessary so that we may be readjusted and remain in God’s love.—2 Corinthians 13:11.
17. How can wealth be spiritually dangerous to us?
17 We must not allow materialism, riches, or the lack of riches to make us lukewarm. Wealth can aid in opening up new possibilities of service, but it can also be dangerous. (Matthew 19:24) A well-to-do person may feel that he does not need to be as zealous in the preaching work as others, provided that he makes sizable donations from time to time. Or he may feel that being wealthy entitles him to favors. Additionally, there are many pleasures and pastimes open to a wealthy person that others cannot afford. But those diversions take up time and may draw the unwary away from the Christian ministry, thus making the indiscreet one lukewarm. May we avoid all such snares and keep “working hard and exerting ourselves” wholeheartedly, with everlasting life in view.—1 Timothy 4:8-10; 6:9-12.
‘Taking the Evening Meal’
18. What opportunity does Jesus set before the Christians in Laodicea?
18 Jesus goes on to say: “Look! I am standing at the door and knocking. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into his house and take the evening meal with him and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20) If the Laodicean Christians will only welcome Jesus into their congregation, he will help them to overcome their lukewarmness!—Matthew 18:20.
19. What does Jesus imply when he promises to take the evening meal with the congregation in Laodicea?
19 Jesus’ mention of the evening meal doubtless reminds the Laodiceans of the times when he ate meals with his disciples. (John 12:1-8) Such occasions always brought spiritual blessings for those present. Likewise, there were notable occasions after Jesus’ resurrection when he was present at a meal with his disciples, which occasions greatly strengthened them. (Luke 24:28-32; John 21:9-19) Hence, his promise to come into the Laodicean congregation and take the evening meal with them is a promise to bring them rich spiritual benefits if only they will receive him.
20. (a) At the beginning of the Lord’s day, what resulted from Christendom’s lukewarmness? (b) How has Jesus’ judgment affected Christendom?
20 Jesus’ loving exhortation to the Laodiceans has great significance for the remaining anointed Christians today. Some of these remember that, as the Lord’s day began, Christendom’s religionists were lukewarm to an appalling degree. Instead of welcoming our Lord’s return in 1914, her clergy got embroiled in the slaughter of World War I, in which 24 of the 28 contending nations claimed to be Christian. How great their bloodguilt! During World War II, which was also fought largely in Christendom, false religion’s sins again “massed together clear up to heaven.” (Revelation 18:5) Further, the clergy have turned their back on Jehovah’s incoming Kingdom by supporting the League of Nations, the United Nations, and nationalistic, revolutionary movements, none of which can solve mankind’s problems. Jesus has long since rejected the clergy, judging them adversely and throwing them away, just as a fisherman disposes of unsuitable fish caught in his dragnet. The miserable plight of Christendom’s churches today testifies to that judgment of her. May her eventual fate serve as a warning to us!—Matthew 13:47-50.
21. From 1919 onward, how have Christians in the true congregation responded to Jesus’ words to the Christians in Laodicea?
21 Even within the true congregation, there have been lukewarm individuals who are like a drink that is neither stimulatingly hot nor refreshingly cold. But Jesus still warmly loves his congregation. He makes himself available to Christians who respond hospitably, and many have welcomed him, as though to an evening meal. As a result, from 1919 onward their eyes have been opened to the meaning of Bible prophecies. They have enjoyed a period of great enlightenment.—Psalm 97:11; 2 Peter 1:19.
22. What future evening meal may Jesus have had in mind, and who will share in it?
22 In addressing the Laodiceans, Jesus may also have had another evening meal in mind. Later in Revelation we read: “Happy are those invited to the evening meal of the Lamb’s marriage.” This is the majestic victory banquet in praise of Jehovah after he has executed judgment on false religion—a banquet shared in by Christ and his completed bride of 144,000 in heaven. (Revelation 19:1-9) Responsive members of that ancient Laodicean congregation—yes, and faithful brothers of Christ Jesus today, who wear clean garments of identification as genuine anointed Christians—will all feast with their Bridegroom at that evening meal. (Matthew 22:2-13) What a powerful inducement to be zealous and repent!
A Throne for the Conquerors
23, 24. (a) Of what further reward does Jesus speak? (b) When did Jesus sit down on his Messianic throne, and when did he begin the judgment of professed Christians? (c) What marvelous promise did Jesus make to his disciples when he instituted the Memorial of his death?
23 Jesus speaks of a further reward, saying: “To the one that conquers I will grant to sit down with me on my throne, even as I conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Revelation 3:21) In fulfillment of David’s words at Psalm 110:1, 2, the integrity-keeping Jesus, having conquered the world, was resurrected in 33 C.E. and exalted to sit down with his Father on His heavenly throne. (Acts 2:32, 33) In another crucial year, 1914, Jesus arrived to sit down on his own Messianic throne as King and Judge. The judgment evidently began in 1918 with professed Christians. Anointed conquerors who died before that time would then be resurrected and join Jesus in his Kingdom. (1 Peter 4:17) He had promised this to them when instituting the Memorial of his death, saying to his disciples: “I make a covenant with you, just as my Father has made a covenant with me, for a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.”—Luke 22:28-30.
24 What a marvelous assignment—to sit with the reigning King during “the re-creation” and share with him, on the basis of his perfect sacrifice, in raising the world of obedient mankind to Edenic perfection! (Matthew 19:28; 20:28) As John informs us, Jesus makes those who conquer to be “a kingdom, priests to his God and Father,” to occupy thrones around Jehovah’s own magnificent heavenly throne. (Revelation 1:6; 4:4) Let all of us—whether of the anointed or of the new earth society that hopes to share in restoring Paradise—take to heart the words of Jesus to the Laodiceans!—2 Peter 3:13; Acts 3:19-21.
25. (a) As with previous messages, how does Jesus end his message to Laodicea? (b) How should individual Christians today respond to Jesus’ words to the congregation in Laodicea?
25 As with previous messages, Jesus ends this one with words of exhortation: “Let the one who has an ear hear what the spirit says to the congregations.” (Revelation 3:22) We are living deep in the time of the end. The evidence is all around us that Christendom is cold as far as love is concerned. In contrast, may we as true Christians respond fervently to Jesus’ message to the congregation in Laodicea, yes, to all seven of our Lord’s messages to the congregations. This we can do by having a vigorous share in the fulfillment of Jesus’ great prophecy for our day: “And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.”—Matthew 24:12-14.
26. When does Jesus again speak directly to John, but in what does he participate?
26 Jesus’ counsel to the seven congregations is ended. He does not speak to John again in Revelation until the final chapter; but he participates in many of the visions, for example, in executing Jehovah’s judgments. Let us now join the John class in examining the second remarkable vision revealed by the Lord Jesus Christ.
^ par. 7 These places have been unearthed by archaeological diggings at the site of Laodicea.
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Materialism Versus Wisdom
Back in 1956, a news columnist wrote: “It is estimated that a century ago the average man had 72 wants, of which 16 were regarded as necessities. Today, the average man is estimated to have 474 wants, 94 of which are regarded as necessities. A century ago, 200 articles were urged upon the average man by salesmanship—but today there are 32,000 articles which require sales resistance. Man’s necessities are few—his wants, infinite.” Today, people are bombarded with the idea that material wealth and possessions are the principal thing in life. Thus, many come to ignore the wise advice of Ecclesiastes 7:12: “Wisdom is for a protection the same as money is for a protection; but the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom itself preserves alive its owners.”
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The water that arrived in Laodicea would be unpleasantly lukewarm. Christians in Laodicea had an unsatisfactory lukewarm spirit