The Letter to Laodicea (Rev. 3:14–22)
The Letter to Laodicea (Rev. 3:14–22)
Laodicea was one of the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev. 3:14). The site of Laodicea is now a deserted heap of ruins that the Turks call “Eski Hisar” or “Old Castle.” The words of the risen Christ to Laodicea, in (Rev. 3:14–22) contain allusions to the city’s economic prosperity and social prominence.
The apostle Paul does not seem to have visited Laodicea at the time he wrote Col. 2:1. Epaphras, Tychicus, Onesimus, and Mark seem to have been the early messengers of the gospel there (Col. 1:7; 4:7–15). Paul’s letter addressed to the Laodiceans (Col. 4:16) has been lost; some consider it a copy of the Ephesian letter.
In the Book of Revelation, this congregation consisted of lukewarm Christians (Rev. 3:14–22). But, the living Lord demands enthusiasm and total commitment from those who worship Him.
In (Rev. 3:13), Christ identified Himself using three unique titles, “the Amen,” “the Faithful and True Witness,” and the “Beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 3:14).
The Greek word “Ἀμήν amen,” found in these references, is rendered “verily” in the KJV and “truly” in the NASB. “Amen” is a transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning “truth,” “affirmation,” or “certainty.” It refers to that which is firm, fixed, and unchangeable. Thus, God is called the “the God of truth” or “the God of Amen” twice in Isaiah 65:16.
“Amen” is one of the most liturgical words in churches. It is used as a solemn affirmation which means, “that is true,” “let it be,” or “make it happen.”
Since God is the God of truth, whatever He says is true and sure. “Amen” is often used in Scripture to affirm the truthfulness of a statement.
Christ also describes Himself as “the Amen” (Rev. 3:14). He is “the Amen.” “The God of truth” dwells in Him (John 14:10), and God revealed Himself through Him (John 14:9).
Christ is also “the Amen” because God’s promises have been revealed, confirmed, and fulfilled in Him (2 Cor. 1:20). In the person and the works of Christ, all God’s promises and covenants are fulfilled and guaranteed. All the Old Testament promises of forgiveness, mercy, lovingkindness, grace, hope, and eternal life are bound up in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
The Faithful and the True Witness
Christ also identified Himself as “the Faithful and the True Witness” (Rev. 3:14). He witnessed the truth of God faithfully. Christ’s life and everything He said and did has been truthful testimonies of God’s power, authority, heart, and love (John 5:19). Christ is entirely trustworthy, the perfect and faithful witness to God. He is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
The Beginning of God’s Creation
Finally, Christ refers to Himself as “the beginning of God’s creation” (Rev. 3:14). The Greek word “ἀρχὴ Archē,” translated as “Beginning,” does not mean that Christ was the first person God created, but Christ Himself is “the head of God’s creation” (Rev. 22:13, New Heart English Bible). The English translation of Archē is ambiguous and misleading.
This letter to the church’s angel in Laodicea has much in common with Paul’s letter to the Colossian church. The same heresy plaguing the Colossians had likely made its way to Laodicea (Col. 4:16).
That heresy, a form of incipient Gnosticism, from the Greek word “γνῶσις gnōsis,” which means “knowledge,” taught that Christ was a created being, one of a series of emanations from God. Its proponents also claimed they possessed a secret, higher spiritual knowledge above and beyond the simple words of Scripture.
Combating that heresy, Paul wrote that Christ is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15). The word ”firstborn” (prōtotokos) is not limited to the first one born chronologically. However, it refers to the supreme or preeminent one receiving the highest honor (Ps. 89:27). Christ is thus the Head (Archē) of creation and the leading person (prototokos) in it, to God’s glory.
3:15 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.
Since there was nothing worthy to praise the church’s angel in Laodicea, Christ launched into His concern. He knew the works of the angel of the church in Laodicea that revealed him to be lukewarm.
Deeds always reveal people’s actual spiritual state, as indicated by the Lord Jesus Christ’s words, “you will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16; Rom. 2:6–8). Deeds confirm or deny the presence of true faith (James 2:14). Later, we will see that the works of the church’s angel in Laodicea lacked passion and zeal (Rev. 3:19).
3:16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.
The Lord Jesus Christ compared the spiritual state of the church’s angel in Laodicea to lukewarm water. Christ sent him a powerful, shocking rebuke: “because you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:16). Some church leaders make the Lord weep, others make Him angry, but the church’s angel in Laodicea made Him sick.
Christ’s rebuke “to vomit” him out of His mouth is a severe threat to the angel of the church in Laodicea. Christ revealed the heart of God. When God is not feeling good about someone, He desires to vomit him from His mouth.
God made such a threat in the Book of Zechariah: “In one month I got rid of the three shepherds. The flock detested me, and I grew weary of them” (Zech. 11:8–9, NIV). Jeremiah wondered if God had eventually reached the point of feeling that way about Judah (Jer. 14:19, NIV).
However, this is not a complete rejection of the church’s angel in Laodicea, for the Lord Jesus Christ gives him a call to repent and return to a place of being passionate and zealous for God. The Aramaic uses an idiom that can mean “I am about to reprimand you” or literally, “I am about to give you of my mouth.”
3:17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked,
Although Laodicea was a very prosperous city, a financial center of the region, Christ’s estimation of the church’s angel in Laodicea was that he was spiritually poor.
His self-deception compounded the lukewarmness of the angel. Christ rebuked him for his inaccurate self-assessment: “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing — and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17).
The deeds of the angel exposed his empty words. “Not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,” declared the Lord Jesus Christ, “but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matt. 7:21). Thus, like the rich young ruler (Matt. 19:16–22), The church’s angel deceived himself about his actual spiritual condition.
For the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, He has made us rich, “that though He was rich, yet for your sakes, He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
The Lord Jesus Christ could have instantly judged and destroyed the angel of this church. But, instead, He graciously offered a way for him to repent.
3:18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.
In this verse, the buying is the same as the invitation to the free gift of salvation. The Lord God called everyone in Isaiah 55:1: “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price.”
Christ advised the angel of the church in Laodicea to buy three things from Him: “refined gold,” “white garments,” and “eye salve.”
First, the church’s angel needed to buy “gold refined by fire” so that he might become rich. The “gold refined by fire” refers to the gift of true faith, the faith in Christ, which is “more precious than gold” (1 Pet. 1:7).
Second, he needed to buy the white garments to clothe himself and prevent the shame of his nakedness from being revealed. The white garments are God’s righteousness.
Though the church’s angel in Laodicea prided himself on his allegedly superior spiritual knowledge, he was spiritually blind. Therefore, Christ offered him an eye salve to anoint his eyes so that he might see.
Blindness represents a lack of understanding and knowledge of spiritual truth. The angel desperately needed God to open his eyes and turn him from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God (Acts 26:18; 1 Pet. 2:9).
3:19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore, be zealous and repent.
The phrase “As many as I love” expresses the tender language of Christ’s love to the angel of the church in Laodicea. That shows a revelation of the Father’s heart; He loves the sinners even though they make Him sick.
While God has a unique and special love for His elect, such passages as Mark 10:21 and John 3:16 reveal that He also loves the sinners and looks for their repentance. He, therefore, compassionately and tenderly calls those sinners to repent, lest He convicts and judges them (Ezek. 18:30–32; 33:11).
To “rebuke” or “reprove” means to expose and convict. It is a general term for the Father’s dealings with sinners. To “chasten” or “discipline” means to punish (Luke 23:16,22). It is used in the context of God convicting unbelievers to repent (2 Tim. 2:25). As it is to all who are lukewarm, the message to this angel is to pursue the “repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).
3:20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.
Standing at the Door
In verse 19, the Lord Jesus Christ follows the call for man to repent with a tender, gracious invitation. Christ stands at the door and knocks; if anyone hears His voice and opens the door, He comes in and dines with him.
The Lord Jesus Christ knocking on the door points us to an ancient Jewish wedding invitation. Most likely, they took this tradition from (Song of Songs 5:1-2), where the king knocks on the Shulamite’s door, longing to come in and dine with her.
According to this tradition, the bridegroom and his father come to the bride-to-be’s door, carrying the betrothal cup of wine and the bride’s gift. Then, standing outside, they knock. If she fully opens the door, that means she says, “Yes, I will be your bride.” In the same way, the Lord Jesus Christ and His Father are knocking on the doors of our hearts, inviting us to be the bride of Christ.
Christ was outside this church and wanted to come in, which could happen if the people repented and had fellowship with Him before the night of judgment fell, and it would be too late.
Coming in Him
The phrase “I will come in to Him” expresses the wish of the Father and the Son to have the repentant sinner in their presence. So, Christ said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23).
Dining With Him
The phrase “dine with him” is from the Greek “δειπνήσω μετ’ αὐτοῦ,” which means “have supper with him” (Luke 17:8, 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). Thus, “supper” refers to the evening meal, the last meal of the day.
Sharing a meal in ancient times symbolized the union of people in loving fellowship. Christ’s offer to dine with the repentant speaks of the wish of both His Father and the Lord Jesus Christ to be in intimacy with the repentant sinner. Therefore, St. John said, “truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).
The Eucharist is fellowship (communion) with the Father and His Son through the Body and the Blood of Christ. So St Paul said, “the cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16). So, believers will dine with Christ at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9) and in God’s kingdom (Luke 22:16, 29–30).
3:21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
Sitting on Christ’ Throne
“The throne” is a symbol of royal government and may refer to the king’s role as a judge (Ps. 122:5, Isa. 16:5). The word “throne” also applies to the royal authority of God (Ps. 11:4, 45:6), especially His authority as Judge (Ps. 9:4, 7).
God sits on His throne (Acts 7:49; Rev. 4:2). Christ also has royal authority (Luke 1:32; Acts 2:30). Christ sits on the throne of His Father (Rev. 3:21), where Christ promised to seat the believers (Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:29–30). Thus, believers will also share in Christ’s authority and government (Rev. 3:21).
Sitting with Christ on His throne symbolizes the truth that we will reign with Him in the Kingdom of God (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 5:10, 20:6; 1 Cor. 6:3).
Each of the seven churches is given a tremendous promise to the one who overcomes (Rev. 2:7,10–11,17,26–28, 3:5,12). The right to sit with Christ on God’s throne is one of the many promises of blessings made to overcomers.
3:22 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
In the same way, Christ closed the other six letters, He wrote to the church at Laodicea, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 3:22).
The message to the lukewarm is unmistakable: repent and open up to Christ before the night of judgment falls. The implication for true believers is that we must compassionately call the sinners to repent and receive salvation from God, as Jesus did (Jude 23).