The Letter to Laodicea

To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

Laodicea was a proud and wealthy city situated near a famous hot spring; it was known as a place of cures. It would appear that even the people in the church were proud and wealthy, quite a contrast to the others we have seen. The truth, however, was different, for Laodicea had serious problems. As we go through the letter, you will notice that Jesus has no commendation for Laodicea, as He found nothing deserving a compliment. Many readers might suggest that Laodicea best represents the church of modern times and those who prefer a dispensational approach will say that ours is definitely the period of Laodicea. Before we are too quick to sign on to this view, I must point out that dispensationalists have been misidentifying their historical period as “Laodicea” for over a thousand years now as the time frames are re-adjusted every hundred years or so. It is much more likely that the seven letters and the seven churches are representative of the church as a whole over all of the ages, and that you can find similarities and differences in local congregations with all of the letters, in all times.

Preamble (3:14b)

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation

The “Amen” is an unusual title for Jesus, but it makes sense when we consider the meaning of the word: It means “truly” or “so be it”. Consider 2 Cor. 1:20 where Paul adds the “yes” or the “amen” to the promise of God, which makes it true.

Historical Prologue (3:15, 17)

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!… You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

If you lived in a city in which the economy was built around a curative hot spring, this “lukewarm” reference might well gain your attention. If the water wasn’t hot, it will lose its curative feature. If it isn’t cold, it isn’t even refreshing to drink; it’s just water… blah… and you lose everything. Because of their wealth, they thought all was well; they had life under control: How often we fall into this trap! Their spiritual condition, however, was pathetic.

Curse (3:16)

So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth

It looks to me that Jesus had had just about enough of their arrogance.

Stipulation (3:18-20a)

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.  Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.

Laodicea, in addition to its famous hot spring, was well known for the dark wool garments produced there and the eye salve produced in its medical school. Here, Jesus uses the images along with gold refined by fire, which is a symbol of the regal authority of God, in the stipulation. They were to exchange their earthly wealth for the far greater wealth that God could provide. They were to find white clothes, symbolizing purity and in essence, to clothe themselves with Christ, instead of relying upon earthly position, wealth and finery. They were to open their eyes and see their true peril. Jesus stands at the door and bids them to let Him into their lives; into their congregation, where it would seem He hadn’t been particularly welcome in quite some time.

To put this in a simple way, they must repent of their old ways, and let Jesus in. Also, notice that Jesus has given them this stipulation as an act of love. He has no wish that any harm should befall this errant church; rather He wants them to repent while there is still time for them.

Blessing (3:20b-21)

If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.

Christ offers this church an open invitation for relationship, a covenant relationship. This is what is symbolized here in the eating together. It is hard not to think of the Messianic Banquet in this context also, for ultimately the ones who repent and overcome will enter into that great feast.

Witnesses (3:22)

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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2 Responses to The Letter to Laodicea

  1. Although I do tend to agree with the dispensational viewpoint, I certainly agree with your statement: It is much more likely that the seven letters and the seven churches are representative of the church as a whole over all of the ages, and that you can find similarities and differences in local congregations with all of the letters, in all times.

  2. Thanks for the insight on the context of this passage.

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