In Central Illinois we are surrounded by agricultural fields of corn and beans. The interstate from my home is about a twenty-five minute drive. About thirty miles south of where I live is the convergence of two interstates, with the junction located near the city of Effingham. Consequently, Effingham prospers.
During ancient times Roman roads were major conduits of transportation throughout the empire, and it was in Laodicea that the junction of three roads met. With as much traffic as these roads brought to the city it grew rapidly and became very wealthy. One can just imagine what the residents of the city might have thought as they were prospering financially.
When prosperity comes, the wise man prepares for the heartache that is just around the corner. In the middle of the first century a devastating earthquake hit the area and destroyed many cities; Laodicea was one of them. Though destroyed by an earthquake the city was proud of their self-sufficiency and, thus, refused help from Rome to rebuild.
Laodicea was also a city in a prime location for another reason. Nearby was a medicinal hot spring at Hierapolis; thus, added to Laodicea’s reputation of financial prosperity, in close proximity, was the very important benefit of good health, as promoted by Hierapolis.
This reputation encouraged the residents of the city to think much of themselves and their environment. It appeared the members of the church in Laodicea perpetuated this way of thinking (3:17). They had an attitude of heart with the prosperity experienced in their “pocketbooks” that surely the Lord blessed them in those activities in which they were engaged.
Who and What
As they judged themselves, they failed to remember Him who is judge of all. Jesus is the one who walks in the midst of the churches knowing whatever can be known. To the Laodiceans, however, He identifies Himself in a peculiar way: “the beginning of the creation of God” (3:14). Why would the Lord identify Himself as “the Amen” (God) and also include Himself as “the beginning” – of what is Jesus the beginning?
The Greek word that gives us our English word “beginning” is used three times in the book of Revelation (3:14; 21:6; and 22:13); with each use it is connected with identifying God by name. In fact, in the translation by Hugo McCord, the Greek word is rendered: “the first cause of God’s creation.” In other words, as the Amen (God), He is the creator of the material universe and is all-knowing.
As mentioned earlier, in the area of Laodicea were springs of water, both cold (in Colossae) and hot (in Hierapolis). The communities of Colossae and Hierapolis were known for something of significance, but the church of our Lord in Laodicea was known for something not desired. They were known for being lukewarm in the eyes of the Lord. This was not a satisfactory measurement! The word “lukewarm” has its only location here, but the word is easily understood within its context. Jesus was not pleased and He placed a value judgment on them in this regard!
We know the Lord did not find their lukewarmness particularly pleasing; in fact, it made Him sick! Sickness, of course, can bring about a violent eruption of the contents of the stomach; this illustration the Lord uses to convey to them His dissatisfaction. The lukewarmness of the church was in regard to their failing of seeing themselves as they needed (3:17; cf. 2 Corinthians 13:5). Have you not heard it said that between two extremes lies the truth? Being lukewarm, in this case, was not good!
Just as the church at Sardis thought of itself in a particular way (3:1), the Christians at Laodicea also had a wrong perception of their own standing before the Lord. They not only had a wrong understanding of their standing (if you will), they also failed to realize just how exposed they were. That’s the power of God’s word (Hebrews 4:12); it is able to reprove, convict, instruct, and expose. When Christians are in the wrong it is a painful experience to be exposed. In the end, however, it will be well worth the pain, if there is medicinal application of the ointment Jesus offers (3:18).
Though they perceived themselves as being “rich toward the Lord,” I am sure it was a surprise to hear the Lord’s admonition concerning their poverty. Consequently, Jesus counseled them to purchase “gold refined in the fire.” The gold, however, was not “gold of this world.” The gold that Jesus had in view was much more precious than that: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7). Gold is a precious world commodity, but one’s faith in God will go much further than any worldly commodity.
Not only did they need gold the Lord would give, they also needed clothing (3:18). Paul traveled through life as the Lord’s servant on a mission, and he understood well the difficulty associated with having very little. He wrote to the Philippians words of encouragement because they tended to his needs (Philippians 4:10-19), but what was of more value to him than his physical needs was his strength in the Lord (Philippians 4:13; cf. 2 Corinthians 1:3-11). There is value in being able to purchase things that are needed, but there is also value in having the proper vision. Being able to see men walking around like trees is not the kind of vision we need (cf. Mark 8:22-26). Let our eyesight be sharp, like an eagle flying high in the sky scanning the ground below. With such focused vision we will continually see ourselves as we ought to. Paul told the Corinthians that they were not to be unmindful of the schemes of the devil (2 Corinthians 2:11). When we don’t allow ourselves to be taught by God, is it reasonable for us to think that our eyesight will be sharp? We are to have eyesight that is clearly focused on Jesus and not any wealth that is material and fleeting (cf. Hebrews 12:1-3).
Jesus stands at the door of our heart and knocks; he appealed to those of Laodicea to open the door to him, and he is appealing to us to do the same thing (3:20-22). If we allow the Lord to come in and feed us (as the Chief Shepherd feeds all his saints) we can be sure that our spiritual health, once sickly, can be regained and strengthened.