This is the seventh and final letter from Jesus to the churches in the region of Lydia. As I read through it, and did a little background research on the city of Laodicea, I realized that everything Jesus said to them can be traced directly back to the teaching they had already received, and to the city they lived in.
And it is a bit of a sobering message.
They really were rich in both temporal wealth and spiritual teaching. But Jesus said they were actually impoverished and they had no idea.
“So Be It”
Jesus presented Himself to the Laodicean Christians as the Amen, the “So Be It,” One Who made what was said a reality. Jesus then qualified His Amen by saying He is the Faithful and Trustworthy Witness, the One Who speaks what is true and says it truthfully. And, He is also the source, the origin of the entire cosmos, the whole of God’s creation. From God came the powerful Word that brought all that is into being.
Including, of course, the Laodiceans themselves, and everything that constituted their world. Did they have rich fields and fertile rivers? God through Christ brought all that into existence. Did they have grand marble monuments, and great piles of gold? That all came from God through Christ. Their lucrative black wool industry, their magnificent institutes of learning, their famed medical establishment, their big pharmaceutical success all stemmed back to the divine creative power of God through Christ.
Even their very brains that made it possible to transform raw resources into abundant wealth came from God.
“I Am Rich”
So, certainly in a way, they could say, “I am rich. I have become affluent, so I have no need.” But, in another far truer way, they would have had to modify their contented boast by saying, “Actually, if it were not for the Lord, I would have nothing at all. All I have, really, to my name is need, which God has graciously supplied in abundance.”
And it was not simply physical wealth that blessed the inhabitants of Laodicea. They had intellectual wealth, economic wealth, political wealth, social wealth, and spiritual wealth.
- Intellect: Famous philosophers had come from their city, and their universities were renowned in both science and literature
- Economics: Not only were they the richest city in their region, but they were also the banking and financial center, the New York Stock Exchange of ancient Lydia.
- Politics: Emperor Nero himself saw to it that Laodicea received all the help they needed to rebuild their city after a devastating earthquake in 60 CE.
- Social: Monuments and a highly-reputed medical establishment, including Big Pharma, spoke to the welfare of Laodicea’s citizens
- Spiritual: The assembly in Laodicea not only received Paul’s letter to the Colossians, but Paul had evidently sent a letter to the Laodiceans as well. That letter is lost to us today. It should not be, the Laodiceans had plenty of money and capable scribes to copy and disseminate Paul’s Laodicean epistle to the rest of the churches. But they must not have.
And that last point speaks volumes about the matter of their spiritual condition.
Centuries ago, a Danish author named Hans Christian Anderson (1805-1875) told a parable of a foolish king who paraded about in a garment he had been told was spun of the finest silk the realm had to offer. But, in truth, he was naked.
That story is preceded thousands of years by the true tale of the foolish Laodiceans.
Jesus spoke directly to the deception the Laodicean Christians were laboring under. Yes, they seemed to have every reason to think of themselves as prosperous and problem-free. But that perception was dangerously misguided. “In fact,” Jesus said to them, “You are the opposite of all the things you think of yourselves.”
They thought of themselves as contented and happy. No, Jesus said. You are actually wretched.
They thought of themselves as successful, of high repute. No, Jesus said. You are actually miserable.
They thought of themselves as scions of wealth, with heaps of gold. No, Jesus said. You are actually impoverished.
They thought of themselves as intellectually insightful and spiritually wise. No, Jesus said. You are actually blind.
They thought of themselves as well-clad in the finest black wool garments available in the entire empire. No, Jesus said. You are actually naked.
The Amen had given His truthful testimony.
Now, the Source of All That Is would offer the Laodicean believers what they needed.
Redeem From Me
I counsel to you to redeem from Me gold fired by fire in order that you may be made prosperous and white apparel in order that you may clothe yourself and that your shame and the disgrace of your nakedness would not be exhibited, and to anoint your eyes with eye salve in order that you would see.Jesus to the Laodicean assembly, Revelation 3:18
At first read, it feels strange to listen to Jesus advise someone to redeem something from Him. He is the Redeemer! He gave His life in redemption for all those who come to Him in faith. How could the Laodiceans redeem anything with Jesus?
But actually, that is the whole point.
They were a needy, needy people. But the only way their need could be met was for them to acknowledge their truly desperate straits and redeem their empty wealth for what Jesus had.
Part with your piles of gold, Jesus said to them, and exchange it for the pure heavenly gold I offer.
The gold Apostle Peter alluded to when he wrote,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Although you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.1 Peter 1:3-9 (NRSV)
For once Laodicean Christians exchanged their faith in earthly prosperity—
- their confidence in their own skills and education
- their economic acumen and political capital
- their social wellbeing and sense of spiritual superiority
—once they had redeemed their lives with their Redeemer, the Source of Life, they would find themselves welling up with a spiritual vigor that would bubble out of them like an ever-flowing fountain of life.
Now, rather than their own garments of black wool, they would be clothed in the pure white heavenly raiment of Christ.
Apostle Paul spoke in similar terms to the Corinthian Christians, saying surely if we are clothed with our heavenly tent, we will not be found naked.
As many of you as were baptized into Christ, Paul taught the Galatian Christians, have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Clothe yourselves with the new self, Paul told the Ephesian Christians, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices, Paul enjoined the Colossian Christians, and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, enslaved and free, but Christ is all and in all!
Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord[ has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
There is no question the Laodicean Christians understood the words of the Word, Amen.