|Volume 21 Number 11 November 2019||
Brian R. Kenyon
While on the Isle of Patmos, John wrote the Book of Revelation. In Chapters 2-3, there are recorded seven letters to the churches of Asia Minor. Although each letter was written to a specific congregation, each is also applicable to us (cf., “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches,” Revelation 3:22). The seventh of these letters was written to the church at Laodicea. The subtitle, “A Church with a Closed Door,” is adapted from Ray Summers (Worthy Is the Lamb).
Background of the City
Laodicea was located at the junction of the Lycus and the Maeander River valleys, which also was the location of three major trade routes. The city was founded by Antiochus II (261-246 B.C.). Laodicea quickly became the center of Hellenistic culture, reaching its peak in 190 BC. In A.D. 60, the city was destroyed by an earthquake. It was rebuilt without help from Rome, thus giving its people an arrogant attitude. Laodicea was richer than the other six cities. It was noted for banking, manufacturing of clothing (especially from black wool) and its medical school, which was famous for its eye ointment (cf., “eye salve,” Revelation 3:18). The city’s wealth and easy-going lifestyle was very attractive. Although the establishment of the church in Laodicea is not recorded, it seems Epaphras could very well have been involved (cf., Colossians 4:12-13). Paul wrote at least one epistle to the Laodiceans that God’s providence did not allow to survive (Colossians 4:16).
Relevance of the Writer
This letter was written from “the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God” (Revelation 3:14). Christ as “the Amen” guarantees that all He said was “faithful and true” (cf., Isaiah 65:16). Jesus perfectly fulfilled His role as “Witness” by virtue of the fact that He had firsthand knowledge, that He was competent to reproduce that knowledge and that He was willing to make His truth known. “The Beginning of the creation of God” affirmed Christ as the source of all things created (John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-17).
The Laodicean church was best (or worst) known for its “lukewarmness,” as revealed by Christ. He said, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16). Unlike the other churches, the Lord had nothing good to say about the Laodicean church. The imagery of lukewarm water would have been obvious to the Laodiceans. Their water supply was drawn from hot springs near the city. The taste of warm mineral water was not pleasing. The Lord wished they were either “cold” or “hot.” This was a congregation that couldn’t care less about the Lord’s work. There is more hope for one who is openly against the church than for one who is completely indifferent (e.g., Saul of Tarsus, 1 Timothy 1:12-16). Hot water heals, cold water refreshes, but lukewarm water does neither. This congregation was so nauseating to Christ that He was about to “vomit” [“spue,” KJV; “spit,” ESV] “you out of My mouth”! We also are nauseating to Christ when we are indifferent toward His work!
The Lord further condemned them for their arrogance. “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). Unlike the saints in Smyrna, who were poor materially, but rich in faith (Revelation 2:9), the Laodiceans were rich materially, but poor in faith. Their attitude of self-reliance was contrary to God’s will (Hosea 12:8; Luke 18:11). Christ saw the Laodiceans as they really were: “wretched” (in spite of their luxurious condition); “miserable” (in spite of their own comfort); “poor” (in spite of their wealth); “blind” (in spite of their eye ointment) and “naked” (in spite of their clothing makers). We must not rely upon ourselves, but we must put our trust in God (Proverbs 3:5-7).
Christ’s Solution and Blessing
The Lord advised them to obtain (“buy from Me”) the true treasures. “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see” (Revelation 3:18). In contrast to their well-known black wool, Christ told them to obtain “white garments.” The term “nakedness” symbolized shame and humiliation (Genesis 3:7-10). Their haughty garments of self-sufficiency could not cover their sins; thus, they were told to obtain garments of purity, victory and sanctity (i.e., “white”). They were further called upon to “anoint” their eyes with true medicine. They were blinded to their own faults and materialism by the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). We must learn from the Laodiceans that we, too, can be so caught up in materialism that we lose sight of what is eternally important.
Although the Laodiceans were close to being regurgitated by the Lord, He gave them hope. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:19-20). Chastening stems from love (Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:5), and love is why God gives time to repent (Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). To “be zealous” is the opposite of being “lukewarm.” If they would “open the door” upon which Christ knocks, they would enjoy fellowship with Him. To “dine” [“sup,” KJV; “eat,” ESV] with Christ is to dine with Him in spiritual communion (Luke 14:16-24). Christ will not force admission, but He seeks entrance through our willingness (Matthew 11:28-30). The closed “door” is opened only by accepting His Word (“hears My voice,” cf., John 10:3-4, 14-16).
Finally, Christ gave a promise: “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21). To sit with Christ on His “throne” would be a great honor. There can be no greater incentive for us than to know that Christ has already “overcome” (John 16:33). When we are faithful, we also will share in His victory and rule (Ephesians 2:5-6; 2 Timothy 2:11-12).
May we never make the Lord sick by our apathy toward His work. Rather, let us be zealous in doing His will. We start by obeying the Gospel. We finish by living it faithfully all our days.