THE LETTER – “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:14-22)
Background – Laodicea was located in the southwest portion of Phrygia, lying between Colossae (not one of the seven) and Philadelphia. Phrygia was an ethnic territory, not an actual nation or province. It overlapped the Roman provinces of Asia and Galatia, encompassing the eastern portion of Asia and the southern portion of Galatia. Laodicea was a prosperous banking center that was so proud of its wealth that it refused Roman disaster relief after an earthquake in 60 AD, choosing to rebuild from its own resources. This wealth led to a self-satisfied, self-sufficient, lukewarm state in spiritual matters.
As with the previous churches, Jesus tailored His words to something significant about the city in which the assembly was located. In this case, Laodicea was known for its wealth and its manufacture of a special eye salve, as well as of a glossy black wool cloth. It also was located near Hierapolis, famous for its hot springs, and Colossae, known for its pure, cold water. The church in latter times was apparently flourishing; for one of the councils at which the canon of Scripture was determined was held in Laodicea in 361 AD. Hardly a Christian is now to be found on or near its site.
Greeting: What’s in A Name – Jesus refers to Himself as the “Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.” The word “Amen” means so be it. This is the only instance that it is used as a proper name. The term applied to the Lord signifies that He is the final fulfilment of all that God has spoken to the churches. In speaking of Himself as “the faithful and true Witness” Christ was repeating what He had said earlier in Revelation 1:5 and 3:7. As “the Ruler of God’s creation” Christ is emphasizing that He existed before God’s Creation and is sovereign over it. This description of Christ was in preparation for the stern words of rebuke which Christ would give the church in Laodicea.
The name Laodicea, in contrast, means the rule of the people. This name fits what had become a democratic and humanistic church that no longer followed its spiritual leaders or the authority of the Word of God.
Praise: What’s Pretty Good – There is no divine commendation given to this church. Of course, the Laodicean’s were busy commending themselves. They thought they were glorifying God, when in reality they were disgracing His name just as though they had been walking around “pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
Criticism: What’s Not So Good – In the Christian life, there are three spiritual temperatures (see Figure 10.1): a burning heart on fire for God (Luke 24:32), a cold heart (Matthew 24:12), and a lukewarm heart (Revelation 3:16). The lukewarm Christian is comfortable and complacent, not realizing he is in need. If he were cold, at least he might feel it and not be comfortable with it.
Both the cold water imported from Colossae and the hot water imported from Hierapolis would be lukewarm by the time it was piped to Laodicea. Jesus, in essence, is saying: If you were you hot (e.g., good for bathing or cooking) or cold (e.g., good for drinking), you might be useful for something. But as it is, I feel toward you the way you feel toward your water supply—you make me nauseous. “So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
Exhortation – The church was “blind” to its own “pitiful” condition. They thought “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.”
• I Am Rich – This could be an expression of the church’s self-deception in imagining that its wealth is an expression of God’s approval.
• I Have Acquired – This suggests that they believed this attainment was due to their efforts alone.
• I Do Not Need a Thing – This may also be read, I do not need anyone’s help, including God’s.
In reality, Jesus declares “you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” In their pride of what they had attained, the Laodicean’s had begun to measure things by human standards instead of by spiritual values. They had become blind to spiritual reality (“you do not realize”), an extremely dangerous place for a Christian to be. The Apostle Peter teaches that when a believer is not growing “in increasing measure” in their spiritual walk, their spiritual vision is affected (2 Peter 1:5–9), making the believer “nearsighted and blind.” See Figure 10.2.
Like the emperor in Hans Christian Andersen’s story, these Christians thought they were clothed in splendor when they were really naked. Naked, as it is used here, is an indication of defeat and humiliation (2 Samuel 10:4; Isaiah 20:1–4).
Through its robust banking industry, the city was materially wealthy. But the church lacked spiritual richness. They were urged to buy “gold refined in the fire” (not ordinary unrefined gold), which would glorify God and make them truly rich. Though they had beautiful clothes, they were urged to buy “white clothes to wear,” symbolic of righteousness which would cover their spiritual nakedness. As wool was a major product of the area, Laodicea was especially famous for a black garment made from black wool. What they needed instead was pure white clothing. Finally, Christ exhorted them to put “salve to put on your eyes.” A medical school located in Laodicea offered a special salve to heal common eye troubles of the Middle East. What they needed was medicine from above to restore clarity to their spiritual sight.
Dramatically Christ pictured Himself as standing on the outside, no longer walking among the candlesticks, and knocking on a door to be let back in. The church in a Laodicea was a far cry from the church at Ephesus. See Figure 10.3.
In one (there are many versions) familiar painting of Christ knocking on the door, the latch is not shown. Thus, it implies that the door can only be opened from the inside. The appeal is for those inside to hear, open the door and let Him in. Christ promised, “I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” When Christ is on the outside, there can be no fellowship or genuine wealth. When Christ is on the inside, there is wonderful fellowship and sharing of the marvelous grace of God. While this text is often used to appeal to the unsaved, here in Revelation it is actually an appeal to apostate believers.
Warning – Christ had said enough and there was no need for Him to elaborate further. “So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” The word translated spit literally means vomit. Physicians of that time would use lukewarm water (“because you are lukewarm”) to induce vomiting (“spit you out of my mouth”), another metaphor for this lukewarm church.
Promise to Overcomers – The very same Christ who had just threatened to spit them out of His mouth, now offers an alternative – a seat with Him on His throne! What grace! The highest place of honor is yet within reach of those who have sunk the lowest. The faintest spark of repentance may be fanned into the mightiest flame of God’s grace and love. This is the grandest of all the promises to the churches, yet it is given to the one in the worst spiritual condition and receiving the harshest rebuke. It also forms a transitional link to the next part of the book, where the Lamb is introduced as seated “on His Father’s throne” (Revelation 4:2-3).
Reflection – Comfort and complacency are perhaps the most dangerous conditions for an individual Christian or church. Yet, even from these depths Christ can takes us to the greatest heights if we only submit to Him.
Up Next: The church in America.
Cited sources for Laodicea.
- Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Re 2:8). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
- Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Re 2:8). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.
- Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 934). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
- Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Re 2:8). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
- Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 2, p. 442). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
- Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 573). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.