The Church at Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22)
The complacent church
Christ introduced himself to the church at Laodicea as "the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation" (3:14). These titles were not taken from the description of Christ in chapter 1. Neither do they have any parallels in the final chapters. However, the ideas in the names are implicit to the book of Revelation as a whole.
Jesus is the faithful and true witness. He spoke and did only what the Father commanded him, no matter the consequences (John 3:34; 5:36; 12:49). Christ as faithful witness was a sharp contrast to the Laodiceans who witnessed only to their own supposed spiritual works.
Problems at Laodicea (3:15-19)
Like the church at Sardis, Laodicea had been bitten by the bug of complacency. But this church was also spiritually arrogant in its self-satisfaction. It was the only church about which Christ had nothing good to say. Tragic, indeed!
The church thought of itself as rich and in need of nothing from Christ. The "wealth" it claimed for itself would, no doubt, be spiritual, though many of the members might have also been materially rich. In any case, what is in view here is Laodicea’s spiritual pride and complacency.
The members needed to buy true riches in the very areas of life where they felt they had no lack. This is explained in metaphorical terms as gold refined in the fire (3:18). Christ is the refiner of the human soul, which he purifies as the refiner does gold (Malachi 3:3). What needed refining was Laodicea’s faith so that it would become genuine (1 Peter 1:7).
Laodicea also needed white clothes to cover its spiritual nakedness (3:18). White garments are used as a symbol of righteousness throughout Revelation (3:4, 5; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13-14; 19:14). They also represent the proper apparel to wear at important festivities. The church cannot gain the righteousness of Christ through its own effort. The white garments are spoken of as given to the saints (6:11; 19:8). They are made white by being washed in the justifying red blood of the Lamb (7:14). Without the white garments of righteousness, the church is spiritually naked. Nakedness is a symbol of spiritual shame and worthlessness (Ezekiel 16:35; 2 Corinthians 5:3).
The Laodicean church was spiritually blind. Of course, its members thought they could see clearly – thought that they were rich and without any needs. But Christ counseled them to apply a spiritual eye-salve so that they could see how far they had fallen. In short, they needed to be earnest and repent (3:19).
Laodicea’s spiritual works are said to be neither cold nor hot (3:15-16). This may refer to the various kinds of water supply available in Laodicea and two nearby cities, Hierapolis and Colossae. Hierapolis was the site of hot, spa-like waters, used for medicinal purposes. Nearby Colossae was known for its cold and pure drinking water. But the waters of Laodicea were considered nauseous and undrinkable, not useful for any meaningful purpose. Like the city’s water supply, the church is useless in its service to the Lord, and Christ is about to spit it from his mouth.
The church does not show forth the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit. The metaphor of the water supply says not so much that the church is half-hearted, but that its works are barren of God’s power. The church reflected human ways and aspirations, not Christ’s. It was far from the living water it desperately needed from him (John 4:10-14; 7:38-39).
Promise to Laodicea (3:20-21)
In the letter, Christ used a metaphor of himself standing at the door and knocking on the minds and hearts of the smug Laodiceans. Someone or something standing by a door is a well-known biblical metaphor.
Jesus used the door metaphor in the context of his disciples’ urgent need to stay spiritually alert (Mark 13:29). James pictured Christ as the Judge standing at the door (5:9). Jesus spoke of his disciples as waiting expectantly for the master so they could open the door to him (Luke 12:36).
The image of Christ standing outside and knocking may also imply that the Laodiceans have locked him out of their church! But the metaphor is also a symbol of promise. Christ is waiting outside, hoping the Laodiceans will be open to his correction and change their ways. If they do, he will come in and share a meal with them (3:20). The fellowship meal figures prominently as a symbol of togetherness with Christ in the kingdom (19:9).
This leads easily to the final promise – a place on Christ’s throne, the symbol of his ruling authority (3:21). If the members of the church repent, they can eat and drink at Christ’s table in his kingdom and sit on thrones of judgment (Luke 22:30).
The fulfillment of this promise is described under the millennial rule of Christ (20:4) and in the eternal new creation (22:5). But the Laodiceans must overcome in Christ, and therefore in the same way he overcame. Because he conquered himself, he has been given royal authority – which the church can have as well (3:21).
To summarize, in chapters 2 and 3 we have seen the deep spiritual problems in the church, at least in the Roman province of Asia, at the end of the first century (assuming Revelation was not written earlier). The cares of this life, the penetrating power of the society around the members and wrong spiritual attitudes have blocked out the church’s view of Christ to one degree or another.
To many members in the seven churches, the world seemed to be the only compelling reality. They had a desperate need to see behind the scenes, as it were, and discover the unseen reality of Christ and God. Members needed to refocus their minds on the real power of the universe, the place where salvation lies – in Jesus Christ, our Savior.
Revelation takes up this theme in chapters 4 and 5, revealing where the true salvation of the church lies, which is in the heavenly rule of God and the salvific work of the Lamb. The world system of evil to which many were falling prey will be judged by God and replaced by his eternal kingdom, the New Heavens and New Earth. That’s the rest of the story in Revelation.