Laodicea was the seventh and last church addressed by Jesus, completing the semicircle the seven churches made of which Jesus was pictured as being in the midst. It was a wealthy city, making money from its woolen garment industry. It was also a large banking center. The minerals which came down from the hot springs at the nearby city of Hierapolis was compounded into an eye salve which helped prevent blindness. Laodicea also had a medical school. It’s location at the crossroad of two major highways made it a center of trade as well. The city was so wealthy that when the city was destroyed by and earthquake a few years before the writing of Revelation, the inhabitants turned down Roman aid with its attached strings and decided to rebuild the city from their own pockets.
Besides being prone to earthquakes, the Achilles’ heel of Laodicea was its undrinkable water. Even though it was located on a river, the water from the river came from two sources. The one was the overflow from the hot mineral springs at nearby Hierapolis and the cold refreshing water of Colossae, which resulted in the water of the river being warm and salty. Water had to be sent through and aqueduct from miles away.
Laodicea was also a free city which means the Romans allowed it to rule itself so long as it could maintain good order. Life was easy at Laodicea, and its residents felt secure in their wealth. Status quo was the order of the day. The cultured people there would be generally tolerant of religion so long as they did not rock the boat too much. Apparently, the Christian church there did not make many waves as there does not seem to have been any persecution of the Christians in Laodicea.
The church there was probably started there by one of the followers of Paul before it came under the jurisdiction of St. John.
For all its power and wealth, Laodicea is today a forgotten ruin like so many other ancient cities that were once influential.
Exposition of the Text
Jesus introduces Himself to the church at Laodicea as the “Amen”. This is a Hebrew word which has the base meaning of “so let it be”. In this sense, it would describe the creation of the world itself which was spoken into existence by this same Jesus. He spoke, and it came into being. Jesus often used the word in His pronouncements in the gospels. In John’s gospel, He uses the double Amen. This word was and still is used at the end of a prayer with a sense of “may what I have prayed for come to pass” or as a response to something in which the hearer responds that He believes what he/she has just heard has come from God. The fact that Jesus started with “Amen” rather than finished with it indicates that whatsoever He speaks is God’s word that will come to pass because it is God the Son who has spoken it. Here in Revelation, He begins His message by calling himself the “Amen”.
Jesus follows the Amen with the description of Himself as the “faithful witness” which refers back to Revelation 1:5. The idea of this term is a faithfulness unto death. In Revelation 1:5, Jesus follows this term with “the firstborn from the dead”. Here He calls Himself “the beginning of the creation of God”. Some feel that these two terms are parallel to each other as a result. This would make the resurrection of Jesus as the beginning of the new creation. There is certainly something to be said about this, but Jesus is also presented in Revelation as the creator of all creation as in Genesis 1. The word “beginning” also has the idea of “source of” as well as “ruler over”. In this context, the sovereignty of Jesus seems to fit the message to Laodicea best. But as John is famous for using double meanings in His choice of terms, he may mean all of these things here. It would certainly not be wrong to understand that Jesus is the beginning of the new creation as well as creator of the universe who spoke it into existence. As creator, He then is its rightful owner and ruler.
Jesus then continues with “I know you”. This means that as the Lord of all, He is aware of what is going on in Laodicea. And the Lord is not happy with what He sees. He calls them lukewarm, and says His preference was that they would either be hot or cold. Many have seen this as meaning that Jesus prefers people who are either on fire for Him or completely cold to the gospel. There is some truth that lukewarmess acts as an inoculation against catching the live form of Christianity. There is also some truth that violent opponents to the gospel experience dramatic conversions. This happened quite often in Wesley’s revivals when hired thugs sent to disrupt or even harm John Wesley were struck down and converted. By the way, it was the lukewarm Anglican officials who often hired these people.
However, recent commentators see something else at work here. The water problems at Laodicea serve as a metaphor. The hot mineral water of Hierapolis was useful in the bath to provide relief to pain. The cold water of Colossae was useful for relieving thirst. But the only thing the water of Laodicea was good for was to induce vomiting. The church made Jesus want to vomit.
In the Old Testament book of Leviticus, the Israelites were reminded that the sins of the Canaanites were causing them to be vomited out of the land (18:25). But the Israelites in verse 28 were reminded that if they were to practice the same sins there as the Canaanites that they too would be vomited out of the land. If Revelation is in part a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, then this judgment against the nation of Israel by the Romans could be seen as their being vomited out of the land. If we follow this further, the church as the continuation of the true Israel was taking the place of the nation of Israel who was being vomited out from the presence of God. The same warning though comes to the church. If the church follows in the folly of sin, then these curses would come upon the church of Laodicea.
In verse seventeen, Jesus specifies the charges against the church. The church at Laodicea is complacent. Like the city who refused Roman aid, the church did not feel it needed anything. It was self-sufficient. If so, it was in effect saying in deed if not in word that they did not need Jesus. They were doing just fine without Him. The church was wealthy and cultured. They took pride in their vision, their gold, and their fine dress as proof that everything was going well with them. They were healthy and wealthy, which many took as proof that they were blessed by God and doing fine. They might have thought that their impoverished and troubled sister churches were the ones who were cursed. They were suffering from the affluenza of the health and wealth gospel, which was no gospel at all.
Jesus tells them that they were completely blind to reality. Even though they were the richest church materially, they were the most impoverished spiritually. They thought they were rich, but Jesus tells them they are wretchedly poor. They took pride in their sight, but Jesus calls them blind. They might have expensive clothing, but Jesus calls them naked. The church that thought it had everything but Jesus had nothing at all. Jesus calls them to repent and come to Him for the spiritual goods they needed and not to trust in their own ability. They were to buy from Jesus pure gold that had been tested, spiritual clothing which was pure white to cover their nakedness, and eye salve to anoint their eyes so they might be able to properly see. The Christian faith was not about people’s self-sufficiency and pride. Rather, the message is that Jesus supplies liberally to those who confess their need those things which are truly important. Without grace, all is lost.
Jesus then reminded the church at Laodicea that despite His harsh criticism of them that He still loved them and was chastening them as children for their own good. There was still time for them to repent. He stood at the door of the church knocking. Most of us have seen the picture of Jesus standing at the door knocking and have heard this verse quoted at altar calls for sinners to open up their hearts to Jesus. However, we must be reminded here that Jesus is standing outside of a church asking to come in to a church which was supposedly His. Can one have a Christian church without Jesus.
Jesus stood outside this church knocking and asking someone to let Him in. If anyone there did invite Him in, He would in turn invite Him to supper, which I think here means the marriage supper of the Lamb. This is followed by the promise to the overcomer that He would share His throne with Him, which is quite a privilege. The wealth the church had was nothing to the true wealth and power that was theirs if they would be faithful to Jesus. But He reminds the church how He got there. He also overcame. Overcame what? --the answer seems to be death. Death is the end of all material goods in this world, but just the beginning of the true and eternal wealth. If this church were to become faithful to the message of Christ, they would end up losing their material wealth and gain persecution in this life. But what glory lay beyond. Let all of God’s churches hear this message.
Of all the seven churches, this church seems to be the church in vogue today, even more than Sardis. The Lord said the Laodicean church wanted to make Him vomit. What would Jesus say (WWJS) about the health and wealth gospel which is preached in too many churches today? Is the wealth of these churches a blessing or a curse? Would God really vomit these churches out? From this passage, we learn that Jesus is already an outsider to these churches. He sent prophets to warn Israel in the Old Testament to repent. He sent this New Testament letter to Laodicea for them to repent. May the church hear the word God is speaking to her today.
The Book of Revelation warns us that someday all of the things this world values will come to an end. The total destruction that was coming to Jerusalem and the land of Israel serves as a paradigm to what will happen at the end times. All the buildings will be taken down by earthquakes, floods, war, and other disasters. The armies and navies of the world will come to an end. The economy will come to an end. Even the song of the bride will come to an end. Peter tells us that the earth and all of the works of man will be melted by fervent heat. Hebrews tells us that there will be a great shaking at the end of the age. Only those things which cannot be shaken will remain. One can only see the desolate ruin of Laodicea today to realize that everything man makes and prides himself in will eventually come to nothing.
When the Jews were to construct an altar, they were to make it of undressed stones. This means to use the stones without working them. They were to use them the way God had made them. In like manner, the City of God is not built by human hands, therefore is not subject to the corruption of Adam.
We are called to overcome. But if we are to follow Jesus, we are reminded that we must bear our own cross and follow Him. The kind of message that Jesus gave to the church of Laodicea is not popular today, if it ever was.. But Jesus loves us too much not to warn us to try to go it alone without Him. That is nothing more than suicide.