14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” – Revelation 3:14-22 ESV
The church in Laodicea was founded some time during the middle of the third-century B.C. by Antiochus II, and named after his wife Laodice. It was a wealthy and prosperous city, known for its production of wool cloth. After it’s destruction in A.D. 60, as a result of a devastating earthquake, the citizens of Laodicea rebuilt at their own expense, with no assistance from Rome. It was an economically independent city filled with self-sufficient people, and this attitude had evidently infiltrated the church there. In His address to this, the final church of the seven, Jesus refers to Himself as “the Amen.” This word can be translated as “so be it” or “may it be fulfilled.” Metaphorically, it could refer to faithfulness. It was common among Jews that when a passage of Scripture had been read or a prayer prayed, the rest of the congregation would react by saying “amen,” and by doing so, expressing their desire that the content of the passage or prayer be fulfilled. By referring to Himself in this manner, Jesus was not simply expressing His desire that the Word of God be fulfilled, He was designating Himself as the very fulfillment itself. He was the first and the last (Revelation 1:17), the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega (Revelation 1:8). Jesus will combine all three of these statements in the latter part of the book of Revelation.
“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” – Revelation 22:12-13 ESV
These words from the lips of Jesus close out the book, reminding all believers to trust that He will fulfill all that is written in the book. He is the source of that fulfillment. He was the one who brought about all of creation. The gospel of John tells us, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3 ESV). And the apostle Paul reiterates that same truth:
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. – Colossians 1:16 ESV
And John records the words of Jesus presenting Himself to the church at Laodicea as “the beginning of God’s creation” – which also reminds us that, as the Amen, He will be the one responsible for the re-creation of the heavens and the earth. And we can trust that He will fulfill all that has been recorded in the book of Revelation, because He is the faithful and true witness. This self-description by Jesus is particularly significant because He is getting ready to address the flaws in the church in Laodicea. And one of the glaring problems they had was their false perception of their spiritual condition. In fact, it was one of the first things Jesus pointed out.
“For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” – Revelation 3:17 ESV
Their words were a lie. They witnessed to something that was far from the truth. Their spiritual condition was not as they described it or, perhaps, even believed it to be. And Jesus describes their true condition as that of lukewarmness. Their self-deluded sense of spiritual superiority had left them in a state of apathetic mediocrity. They had a false sense of superiority that had blinded them to the true nature of their condition. Jesus declares to them that He would prefer that they be either hot or cold, but not lukewarm. In other words, He expresses His displeasure with their complacency and contentment to live in the no-man’s-land of spiritual mediocrity. They had not reverted to their old pagan ways but, at the same time, they were not on fire for the gospel. They were smuggly self-sufficient and thought themselves in need of nothing. But Jesus, the faithful and true witness, see them quite differently.
“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” – Revelation 3:18 ESV
They were satisfied with worldly goods and temporal treasures. Unlike many of the other congregation to whom Jesus has addressed in this book, the Laodicean church was financially stable and its people were well-off. They had no idea what it was like to suffer from poverty or to experience hunger as a result of their faith. In their minds, they had no needs. And when you see yourself as without need, it is quite easy to live your life without God. They had lost their dependency upon God. So, Jesus calls them to return to Him in order to find what it is they really need. He offers them gold refined by fire, of a purity and quality that is unavailable on this earth. Of course, Jesus is not offering them actual gold, but spiritual riches that are of the purist quality. And the richness of which Jesus speaks is that of spiritual wealth, an abundance of good and godly attributes available only through a relationship with Jesus Himself. Jesus spoke of the kind of wealth He had in mind in His sermon on the mount.
19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” – Matthew 6:19-21 ESV
Jesus offers them white garments, a sign of purity and sinlessness, available only through forgiveness of sin. They could purchase the finest garments made from the most expensive cloth, but their spiritual nakedness would remain uncovered. Temporal, earthly items can never remedy our spiritual condition. Clothes can make us look good, but they can’t make us truly good and righteous. And in order for the Laodiceans to see their true spiritual condition, Jesus offers them eye salve, to remove the spiritual blindness from which they suffered. They were oblivious to their condition. But notice that Jesus offers all of these things for purchase. In verse 18, He say, “I counsel you to buy from me…” Is He suggesting that they work for these things? Is Jesus indicating that the spiritual goods He offered were up for sale? It would seem that the Laodiceans were used to sacrificing their money in order to purchase those things they thought they needed. They were more than willing to pay a high price for what they thought was of high value. But Jesus is letting them know that what they really needed was not available in the market, but only from Him. And it would cost them. The purity, holiness, and spiritual vision they needed was not going to come without sacrifice. They would have to turn their backs on their material wealth and social standing. They would have to admit their spiritual poverty and confess their self-sufficiency. They would have to give up those things that brought them comfort and contentment, and turn to the one who could give them life more abundantly.
The prophet Isaiah records the words of God, spoken to the people of Israel, calling them back to Him.
1 “Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live… – Isaiah 55:1-3 ESV
Notice that God commands to them to buy, but they have no money. What He offers them could not be purchased with cash or credit cards. It was not reserved for the wealthy and well-to-do. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus had made it clear that “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6 ESV). Jesus has already paid the price for our righteousness, and He makes it available to us free of cost. But we must come. We must desire what it is that He offers us.
So, Jesus calls the church in Laodicea to repent. He warns them that His love for them will result in His discipline of them, because He wants what is best for them. Their spiritual mediocrity and complacency has left them in a dangerous condition. They were neither spiritually on fire or refreshing. Jesus’ reference to the two extremes of heat and cold seems to be an attempt to use their local water sources as an analogy. The neighboring town of Hierapolis was known for its hot springs that had medicinal value. But by the time this water was transported to Laodicea, it would lose its heat and, therefore, its healing properties. It became lukewarm and useless. And the spring that provided the primary source of drinking water for Laodicea was located six miles to the south and had to be transported over a viaduct. Again, by the time it arrived in the city, it would have lost its refreshing coolness, having been warmed but exposure to the sun. Like these two sources of water, the Laodiceans had lost their healing properties as messengers of the gospel. They had also lost the refreshing value of their relationship with Christ, leaving them incapable of ministering to the spiritually all around them.
Jesus calls out to the complacent believers in Laodicea.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” – Revelation 3:20 ESV
He offers Himself to them. This is not a call to salvation, but an invitation to renew their commitment to and sense of community with Jesus. He wants to restore the intimate relationship they once had with Him. The key to our surviving and thriving in this life is our relationship with Jesus. He is the beginning and the end. He is the Alpha and Omega. He has all that we need to enjoy abundant life in this life. But more than that, He offers us eternal life. Which is exactly what Jesus reminds the Laodicean believers about when He says, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 2:21 ESV). The believers in the city of Laodicea were going to conquer, because Jesus has conquered. They would receive their eternal reward, because Jesus has paid for it with His own blood. But He wanted them to enjoy the full riches of their salvation in this life. He wanted them to experience the abundant life He had come to make possible. And as long as they lived on this earth, He wanted them to be effective witnesses of the healing and refreshing power of the gospel. And that is His desire for every church in every age.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.