The Message to the Church in Laodicea
Laodicea, located on the banks of the Lycos river, was a banking and financial center. It was at the crossroads of a major road between Sardis and Perga and another road between Ephesus and Mesopotamia. It also had a large clothing operation. The sheep in the area were noted for their soft, violet-black, glossy wool. It also had a famous medical center noted for its treatments of the eyes and ears.
It was a wealthy city. When an earthquake destroyed parts of the city in 61 A. D., it refused aid from Rome and used its own resources to rebuild. "One of the most famous cities of Asia, Laodicea, was in the same year overthrown by an earthquake and without any relief from us recovered itself by its own resources" [Tacitus, Annals, 14:27].
It was a popular retirement area for the wealthy. Because these people had retired, they concluded they had served their purpose and had reached their goal. As a result, they were indifferent to social issues. One historian, Ramsay, describes Laodicea as a city of no extremes; a city that had no peculiar characteristics unless this lack of character was its character.
The water supply for the city came from hot mineral springs about five miles from the city. The warm, sulfur water was nauseating to the taste and smell. Laodicea had aqueducts and pipes to carry the water into the city. Remains of the old pipes show heavy mineral deposits.
Paul mention writing to the church in Colossians 4:16. The letter to Philemon is that letter. "An inscription erected by a freed slave from Laodicea was dedicated to Marcus Sestius Philemon. It will be recalled that a Philemon who owned the slave Onesimus (Philem. 10) was a leader in the church of Colossae [should be Laodicea - jwh]. We cannot identify this Philemon with the slaveholder to whom Paul wrote, but the coincidence of the inscription from the same area is intriguing, especially since it refers to the manumission of a slave." [John McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament, p. 247].
Jesus emphasizes his final authority. He is the Amen (II Corinthians 1:20). The word “amen” transliterates a Hebrew word that means firm or steadfast. We use it at the end of prayers to mean “so be it;” that is, the things we have prayed for are firmly desired. When “amen” was used at the start of sentences, it is translated as “verily” or “truly.”
He is also the faithful and true witness (Isaiah 65:16; Jeremiah 42:5). Jesus accurately knows what is occurring (John 8:14). The description emphasizes his firm position in contrast to Laodicea’s attempts to take no position.
Jesus is also the beginning of the creation of God. The phrase is not in the passive tense, which would say that Jesus was the first created. The phrase is in the active, meaning Jesus started the creation (John 1:1-3, 10; Colossians 1:15-19).
There are no praises for Laodicea. Even Sardis had a few had remained faithful despite all of the problems in that congregation. There is nothing praiseworthy about Laodicea.
Their works are like their water supply – it is neither hot or cold. They were not on fire for Christ. There was no fervency or zeal (Acts 18:25; Acts 12:11). But neither were they dead cold. They were much like Israel’s attempt to stand between two positions (I Kings 18:21; II Kings 17:41; Matthew 6:24).
Jesus would prefer an extreme. In an honest stance at either extreme, there is something to be done with them. Being on fire for Christ would be the best position, but why would being dead be better than lukewarm? An unsaved person can be brought to the Gospel, but people who go only part way never make a commitment. Jesus finds this disgusting, like a mouthful of lukewarm mineral water.
The root cause of the problem can be found in society’s influence on the church. The Christians in Laodicea had become rich and that lead to a belief that they were self-sufficient (Deuteronomy 31:20; 32:15). It is easy to think that the rich are better off, but the wealthy lose their trust in God (Psalms 73:3-18). How easy it is for people to think that when things are going well financially that they must be right with God (Hosea 12:8). Instead, we need a humble attitude that a lack of wealth forces on people (James 4:6-10).
To correct the problem, Jesus urges the church to make some spiritual purchases from him (Isaiah 55:1):
Buy gold refined by fire
The Messiah was described as a refiner of precious metals (Malachi 3:1-3). Refining involves heating metals so the impurities come to the surface where they can be removed. For Christians, the refining fire are the trials that we face (I Peter 1:6-7). Jesus is stating that the Christians in Laodicea will have to come out of their comfortable shells and do things that might get the ungodly mad at them. Jesus is also stating that they need to be focusing on spiritual wealth instead of physical wealth. Right now they were lacking in spiritual wealth. We need to face our trials in order to improve (Hebrews 12:5-14).
Buy white garments
Laodicea was known for their glossy black garments, but these Christians needed something very different. White garments are a symbol of righteousness (Revelation 19:8). In other words, they need to cover themselves with good deeds. Right now they had so little they were spiritually walking around naked.
Buy eye salve
The Christians were not seeing things as they truly were. Laodicea may be the place to buy physical eye salve, but it was doing nothing for their spiritual problems (II Corinthians 4:17-18). Without practice, we tend to lose what we have gained (Hebrews 5:11-14). Peter listed numerous virtues Christians need to grow in and warns that without growth we become blind (II Peter 1:8-9).
As bad as the church in Laodicea is, Jesus does want them to return to him. He likens it to him standing at the door knocking, calling for them to open up to him. Those who do are offered close fellowship with their Savior (II Corinthians 6:15-18). Those who overcome will sit with him and the Father on their throne (II Timothy 2:12). Remember that Paul told us that Christians will be judging the world and angels (I Corinthians 6:2-3).