And to the angel of the Church in Laodicea write: These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the Creation of God: I know your works that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am about to spit you from my mouth. Because you say, “I am rich and I have become wealthy, and not even one need do I have,” yet you do not know that you are miserable, and pitiable, and a beggar, and blind and naked. I advise you to buy from me gold which has been refined with fire, in order that you might be rich; and white garments in order that you might be clothed, and not reveal the shame of your nakedness; and an eye salve to rub into your eyes in order that you might see. As many as I love, I admonish and discipline , so be earnest and repent. Behold I stand at the door and I am knocking. If anyone might hear my voice and might open the door, I will enter with him and I will eat with him and he with me. The one who overcomes I will give to him to sit with me on my throne, as I also overcame and sat with my Father on His throne. The on who has ears let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches.
1. Laodicea was a city in Phrygia in Asia Minor about forty miles southeast of Philadelphia. It was founded in the third century BC by Antiochus II and named in honor of his wife. It was a center for banking and a wealthy city. It was famous for the production of black wool for making clothing and carpets and for the production of an ear ointment and eye salve. There was in Laodicea an Asclepion and a medical school. The city’s water was brought by aqueduct from the hot springs near Hierapolis. By the time it reached Laodicea it was lukewarm and foul tasting. These traits of the city give Jesus’ words a degree of sarcasm.
2. Jesus is described as the “Amen” the “faithful” and “true” witness, and the beginning of the creation of God. First it should be noted that the title “Amen” is used of God in Isaiah 65:16ff where it reads:
For whoever blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the true (Amen) God; and whoever swears in the land shall swear by the true (Amen) God. The former troubles shall be forgotten, shall be hidden from my eyes. For behold I am creating a new heaven and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered, they shall never come to mind. Be glad then and rejoice forever in what I am creating,. For I shall create Jerusalem as a joy, and her people as delight, And I will rejoice in Jerusalem and delight in her people. Never again shall be heard there the sounds of weeping and wailing….(JPS).
I do not think it is simply a coincidence that Isaiah 65:17ff speak of a new heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem. Topics that will be featured at the climax of the book of Revelation. In any case, there is a trend throughout the book of Revelation for Jesus to assume the same attributes as God the Father. It seems to me to present here when he refers to himself as the “amen”. I chose to retain the word Amen in my translation rather than rendering it, “the true one,” in order to bring out the significance of Jesus’ claim about himself. He also uses witness language about himself. “Witness” language will be featured throughout the book of Revelation and I will have something more to say about it later. In this case it does remind of Jesus’ statements about himself as recorded by the Gospel of John (e.g. 5:30-38; 8:12-20). The claim to be the beginning of creation reminds me of the prologue in the Gospel of John and Jesus described as “the word.” The word I ahve translated “beginning” is complex in its various meanings. It can refer to Jesus as the source and origin of creation. It can refer to him as the both the “ruler” and “originator” of creation, It can describe Jesus as being before creation. I suppose some could also render it as describing Jesus as the “first” creation, though I reject this latter viewpoint.
3. After introducing himself, Jesus jumps right in and confronts the Church with its spiritual problems. They are neither cold or cool or refreshing, nor are they hot and therapeutic. Instead they are lukewarm and Jesus wants to spit them out. They are a bad drink of water. While trying to understand today what Jesus meant exactly is a matter of some conjecture, I am sure the Church in Laodicea understood what he was driving at. My tendency would be to think what behaviors and attitudes mark a follower of Jesus who brings refreshment to others and to God. And then to consider what behaviors and attitudes mark a follower of Jesus who brings health and vitality to others. The Laodiceans were in neither place. They were neither refreshing nor invigorating. The one brings rest and the other brings passion.
4. Jesus gives us and the Laodiceans some additional information to understand why they were lukewarm and undesirable to Jesus at this moment. They thought they had it all together. Their self-estimate was full of self-aggrandizement. They thought of themselves as spiritually rich, as not having any needs at all. They thought of themselves too well. When in reality they were in very bad shape. Even more the prhase, “I have become wealthy,” suggests that they considered their spirtual prosperity a product of their own effort. The list of their true state is full of sarcasm and really very dire. They are miserable. The word also has the sense of being wretched, pathetic, distressed, unhappy. They are pitiable. The word also means miserable and has the connotation of one who should be pitied because they are in danger. They are a beggar, The word means they are extremely poor and forced to resort to begging. In the Roman world beggars are looked down upon in general with great disdain. To have to lower oneself to begging is not just to be poor but to be scorned. They are blind. The word has the sense not only of physical blindness, but being unable to understand or comprehend. They are naked. The word means to be stripped bare. In the book of Revelation having a garment, particularly a white garment is associated with salvation (Revelation 6:11; 7:9,13,14). Being naked, the Laodiceans are in particular trouble.
It should be noted that Jesus’ confrontation is emphatic. He uses the pronoun you, which is unnecessary since it is contained in the verb unless the speaker wishes to make the statement emphatic:
…you do not know that you are miserable, and pitiable, and a beggar, and blind and naked.
There is also a single article that modifies each of the five adjectives and ties them all together. The article is frequently left untranslated in the English, as is the case here. Its presence is an important device to connect the adjectives. The repetition of the word, “and” is also a rehetorical device. If gives the statement a cadence and serves to emphasize the appalling condition of the Church in Laodicea.
5. The sarcasm continues with Jesus words that they should buy from him gold, clothes, and medicine for their eyes. His statement begins with “I advise” or “counsel”. The word here does not carry with it any sense of force but a simple recommendation. Jesus’ recommendation is not that they buy gold, but pure gold, gold refined in fire that he can give. He recommends they acquire not just any garments, or the black garments Laodicea was famous for, but the white garments which he can give (see significance of white garments above). They don’t need the eye salve that Laodicea is famous for, they need the eye salve that Jesus can give to restore their spiritual eyesight and understanding.
6. Jesus admits to having affection for the Church in Laodicea and points out his harshness is because he loves them. Sort of reminds me what my father use to say to me before administering a spanking. Jesus clearly calls them to repent before it is too late.
7. The next section is famous among preachers and probably among the most abused few verses in the Bible. I note that the context indicates Jesus is speaking to people who identify themselves as his followers. I have no idea where preachers come up with the image of no door knob on the door. If the doors are like the ones that are indicated from archaeological excavations in the Galilee, and I am not aware if they were, they had an ingenious design. They enabled the door to be open an inch or so and to also be fully secured. The one on the outside could see what was going on inside and the one on the inside could see who was knocking on the outside.
Jesus’ offer to be a dinner guest at first glance might seem odd. He is inviting himself over. But because of his status, his willingness to share a meal at ones own place would communicate intimacy and a new status for the host. We should remember that Jesus was criticized for not only associating with tax collectors and sinners, but also for eating with them (Luke 15:1-2). And the Apostle Peter was criticized not for preaching the gospel to gentiles but for entering their homes and eating with them (Acts 11:3). Sharing a meal with another person in their home was a significant event. Jesus’s offer is significant as well for the Laodiceans. It occurs to me that this image of sharing a meal in the home subtly speaks to the economic status of the Laodiceans. The rich had places to prepare food and eat in their homes. The majority of people who lived in apartments in urban cities did not. They would take their meals at local taverns, restaurants, temples, or social / trade associations. This is an analogy for a rich person living in Laodicea.
8. Jesus offer to the one who overcomes is to sit with him on his throne in heaven, as Jesus was rewarded with the privilege of sitting on the throne of God the Father.. This is an astounding offer. it speaks to those in this case who repent and follow him, those whose walk with Jesus is real even in the rough environment of late first century Asia Minor.