By all accounts, the Laodicean Christians really were rich in both temporal wealth and spiritual teaching. But Jesus said they were actually impoverished and they had no idea. Redeem from Me refined gold, Jesus told them, so that you will no longer be impoverished, and wear white garments.
I’ll never forget the pleasant autumn morning David and I woke up to in 2008. We were in our beautiful house (which we still have), the sun was streaming through our bedroom window, I could see the branches of the stately oak trees in our backyard, their distinctive dark green, coroneted leaves gentle waving in the breeze. No kidding, the birds were singing their cheerful morning song, and it was promising to be a lovely day.
Yet, unbeknownst to us—and the rest of America—a financial crisis had reached critical mass in the dark of night. By morning all savings and investments had been reduced by roughly a third of their size. Of course, it was nothing like the disastrous stock market crash in 1929. But it startled us and wiped some of us out.
That is how the Laodicean believers must have felt when they gathered to hear Apostle John’s latest missive. They were in a good place, or so they thought. Everything was going well for them, unlike some of the other Christian assemblies. They had wealth, position, good teaching, gravitas. Whatever the Lord Jesus had to say to them, surely it would be good.
Imagine their startled, perhaps even devastated expressions when they heard the words of the Word,
I have perceived your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. Would [you were] cold or hot!Jesus to the Laodicean assembly, Revelation 3:15
Laodicea, for all its wealth and surrounded by three rivers, nevertheless had something of a cumbersome water system. They were known for it. Miles of underground aqueducts brought their water from nearby Hierapolis’s hot springs. But, by the time it got to Laodicea, it was sadly lukewarm. Unlike the fresh, sparkling mountain water of, say, Sardis, or the steaming hot water of Hierapolis, Laodiceans had to content themselves with tepid tap water.
Well, you can get used to anything, I guess.
But Jesus would not have it.
Tepid Tap Water
So, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am about to spew you out of My mouth.Jesus to the Laodicean assembly, Revelation 3:16
The word Jesus used, ἐμέω | emeō, actually means vomit. It brings to mind that feeling of having put something so repellant into one’s mouth that the gag reflex kicks in and out it spews before one hardly has the chance to stop.
In my mind’s eye, when the reader read that line out loud, a shock of gasps spewed out of the mouths of the listeners, particularly since Jesus had used a metaphor Laodiceans were already sensitive about, their terrible water.
The imagery had to have caught them completely unaware, for it was the exact opposite of their own view of themselves.
Did Jesus really mean He preferred someone who was ice-cold towards Him?
I doubt it.
Jesus’s correction provides clarity.
As many as I would love I reprove and correct: accordingly, be zealous and repent.Jesus to the Laodicean assembly, Revelation 3:19
The Lord was careful in His choice of words. He began with something the Christians in Laodicea would instantly understand. As rich and powerful and influential and famous as their city was, they still could not seem to get decent water into their homes. No matter how opulent their sinks and expensive their faucets, the water that came out of them was odious.
Something can look great but not be nearly as good as it looks.
That is you, Jesus told them.
Water, the very essence of life, was a metaphor Jesus had spoken of often in terms of eternal life, of the infilling of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus had brought forth wine from ceremonially pure stone jars freshly filled with water—representing the richness of the Spirit, the abundance of God’s blessings, the joy of union.
I will give you living water, Jesus had told the Samaritan woman—the Holy Spirit welling up within her to new and eternal life.
Jesus had stood on the steps of the temple and cried out,
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive, for as yet there was no Spirit because Jesus was not yet glorified.John 7:37-39 (NRSV)
Jesus had searched their spirits and found them limp and listless. For all the good teaching they had received from Paul, in spite of their excellent universities and fine thinkers, even though there was no shortage of scrolls or scribes, or temples and synagogues for that matter, the assembly of Laodicea was lackluster.
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Paul had written to all believers in a circular letter that began with the Ephesians. Do not quench the Spirit, Paul had admonished the assemblies in Thessalonica.
Yet that seems to be exactly what had happened to the churches in Laodicea.
After explaining to His beloved ones the truth of their condition,
- and the desperate need they had for the building up of their faith with Spirit-filled zeal,
- and for clothing themselves in the white raiment of Christ’s righteousness,
- and for healing their faulty vision of themselves,
Jesus gave them a beautiful promise that has become among the most quoted words of the Greek scriptures.
Behold, I am standing at the door and I am knocking: if anyone hears the sound of Me and opens the door, then I will come in to that one and I will dine with that one, and that one with me.Jesus to the Laodicean assembly, Revelation 3:20
As I took in those words in Greek, rather than read φωνή | fōnē as voice I instead listened to the sound of Jesus’s gentle knock. Jesus had already been standing there the whole time, gently knocking, waiting for those who might tune their ears to the sound of Him. Perhaps some did.
But most of the Christians in Laodicea had not heard the sound of Christ in their lives, had not invited Him in to be with them, and therefore had not supped with Jesus, nor He with them.
It’s staggering to think about it that way. But there it is.
Do Not Forget
It is something the Lord had warned God’s people about thousands of years before.
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper.
You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.
When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them and when your herds and flocks have multiplied and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God … Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’
But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.Deuteronomy 8 (NRSV)
The one who has an ear, Jesus is saying, Listen, comprehend, attend to what the Spirit is saying to the assemblies.