To the angel of the church in Laodicea, write this:
'The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the source of God's creation says this: "I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot or cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. for you say, 'I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,' and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich, and white garments to put on so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed, and buy ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise.
Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, (then) I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me. I will give the victor right to sit with me on my throne, as I myself first won the victory and sit with my Father on his throne.'
"Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Rv 3:14-22)
Christ introduced himself to the church at Laodicea as "the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation" (3:14). These titles were not taken from the description of Christ in chapter 1. Neither do they have any parallels in the final chapters. However, the ideas in the names are implicit to the book of Revelation as a whole.
Jesus is the faithful and true witness. He spoke and did only what the Father commanded him, no matter the consequences (John 3:34; 5:36; 12:49). Christ as faithful witness was a sharp contrast to the Laodiceans who witnessed only to their own supposed spiritual works.
Problems at Laodicea (3:15-19)
Like the church at Sardis, Laodicea had been bitten by the bug of complacency. But this church was also spiritually arrogant in its self-satisfaction. It was the only church about which Christ had nothing good to say. Tragic, indeed!
The church thought of itself as rich and in need of nothing from Christ. The "wealth" it claimed for itself would, no doubt, be spiritual, though many of the members might have also been materially rich. In any case, what is in view here is Laodicea’s spiritual pride and complacency.
The members needed to buy true riches in the very areas of life where they felt they had no lack. This is explained in metaphorical terms as gold refined in the fire (3:18). Christ is the refiner of the human soul, which he purifies as the refiner does gold (Malachi 3:3). What needed refining was Laodicea’s faith so that it would become genuine (1 Peter 1:7).
Laodicea also needed white clothes to cover its spiritual nakedness (3:18). White garments are used as a symbol of righteousness throughout Revelation (3:4, 5; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13-14; 19:14). They also represent the proper apparel to wear at important festivities. The church cannot gain the righteousness of Christ through its own effort. The white garments are spoken of as given to the saints (6:11; 19:8). They are made white by being washed in the justifying red blood of the Lamb (7:14). Without the white garments of righteousness, the church is spiritually naked. Nakedness is a symbol of spiritual shame and worthlessness (Ezekiel 16:35; 2 Corinthians 5:3).
The Laodicean church was spiritually blind. Of course, its members thought they could see clearly – thought that they were rich and without any needs. But Christ counseled them to apply a spiritual eye-salve so that they could see how far they had fallen. In short, they needed to be earnest and repent (3:19).
Laodicea’s spiritual works are said to be neither cold nor hot (3:15-16). This may refer to the various kinds of water supply available in Laodicea and two nearby cities, Hierapolis and Colossae. Hierapolis was the site of hot, spa-like waters, used for medicinal purposes. Nearby Colossae was known for its cold and pure drinking water. But the waters of Laodicea were considered nauseous and undrinkable, not useful for any meaningful purpose. Like the city’s water supply, the church is useless in its service to the Lord, and Christ is about to spit it from his mouth.
The church does not show forth the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit. The metaphor of the water supply says not so much that the church is half-hearted, but that its works are barren of God’s power. The church reflected human ways and aspirations, not Christ’s. It was far from the living water it desperately needed from him (John 4:10-14; 7:38-39).
Promise to Laodicea (3:20-21)
In the letter, Christ used a metaphor of himself standing at the door and knocking on the minds and hearts of the smug Laodiceans. Someone or something standing by a door is a well-known biblical metaphor.
Jesus used the door metaphor in the context of his disciples’ urgent need to stay spiritually alert (Mark 13:29). James pictured Christ as the Judge standing at the door (5:9). Jesus spoke of his disciples as waiting expectantly for the master so they could open the door to him (Luke 12:36).
The image of Christ standing outside and knocking may also imply that the Laodiceans have locked him out of their church! But the metaphor is also a symbol of promise. Christ is waiting outside, hoping the Laodiceans will be open to his correction and change their ways. If they do, he will come in and share a meal with them (3:20). The fellowship meal figures prominently as a symbol of togetherness with Christ in the kingdom (19:9).
This leads easily to the final promise – a place on Christ’s throne, the symbol of his ruling authority (3:21). If the members of the church repent, they can eat and drink at Christ’s table in his kingdom and sit on thrones of judgment (Luke 22:30).
The fulfillment of this promise is described under the millennial rule of Christ (20:4) and in the eternal new creation (22:5). But the Laodiceans must overcome in Christ, and therefore in the same way he overcame. Because he conquered himself, he has been given royal authority – which the church can have as well (3:21).
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Perhaps the most well-known of the seven letters addresses the church in Laodicea.
Laodicea lay in Phrygia’s Lycus Valley, ten miles west of Colosse and six miles south of Hierapolis. Pagan worship, especially of Zeus but also of numerous other deities flourished there.
We know from Acts 13:14–50 and 14:15 that a significant Jewish community lived in and around Laodicea. However, they seem to have blended into Greek culture in many respects. We know this because, by the third century, illustrations on some coins had mixed together Jewish and pagan versions of the Flood stories.
Laodicea boasted great resources, but had a poor water supply. Ancient sources state that it was full of sediment, and excavation of the city’s terra cotta pipes reveal thick lime deposits, which suggest heavy contamination. Because Laodicea had to pipe in its water, it grew lukewarm by the time of its arrival.
The point of lukewarm water is simply that it is disgusting, in contrast to the more directly useful “hot” and “cold” water.
Jesus thus finds the church in Laodicea to be other than what he desires (cf. Isa. 5:2–6). In today’s English, he is telling the self-satisfied church in Laodicea: “I want water that will refresh me, but you remind me instead of the water you always complain about.”
All the churches would plainly understand this warning.
Like the church in Laodicea, it’s easy to become complacent in our faith during times of abundance. Christ warns us in this revelation that he will “spit out” lukewarm disciples. Instead, Jesus urges us to keep seeking the Lord’s face even after His hand has bestowed riches in our lives.
Laodicea. Laodicea is an ancient city located in the Lycus River Valley of Anatolia, near Hierapolis and Colossae, in Denizli province.