Laodicea was a wealthy city. Its fabulous wealth was centered on the excellence of its wool. It was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 62 and was built again by the wealthy citizens without help from the state. It is reasonable to believe that the affluence and self-sufficiency of the inhabitants led to the smugness, self-satisfaction and “lukewarmness” of the church in spiritual things. The spiritual condition of this assembly had given Paul great concern for the last thirty years. In Colossians 2:1, he writes, “For I would that you knew what great conflict I have for you and for them at Laodicea.” He is speaking of intense agony here.
There were various causes that contributed to this church’s ruin. The chief one was pride, namely pride of accomplishment and achievement. Then there was material wealth, which brought on a condition of over-confidence and self-sufficiency. They gloried in these things. The combination of these questionable assets created conditions which were abhorrent to God.
The spiritual condition of this church is described as lukewarm. This means that it was deficient in its love for Christ, and defective in its service for Christ. It loved the world as much as it loved Christ. It was half-hearted and self-sufficient, indifferent to the claims of Christ. They were both deaf and blind to the claims, glory and presence of Christ. He stood among them as the Lord of Glory—the Amen—the Faithful and True Witness—the Ruler of the Creation of God—the altogether lovely One—the Chief among ten thousand—the One whom angels gladly serve. What an awe-inspiring sight; enough to overwhelm and subdue the hardest heart.
This church, however, shrugged its shoulders and gave Him a listless, half-hearted, uncommitted love. The Lord’s response to this attitude was, “I wish you were either cold or hot.” He is essentially saying, “Give me nothing or give me everything. Your lukewarm love sickens me and I am about to vomit you out of my mouth.” This local church was utterly abhorrent to Christ in their indifferent, dispassionate, superficial and self-sufficient state. There is no word of commendation given to this church.
In Revelation 3:14, notice the way the King James Version renders the Lord’s introductory words, “To the angel of the church of the Laodiceans…” This church was not Christ’s; it belonged to them. Christ was on the outside.
The Lord presents Himself as the Faithful and True Witness: As the faithful witness He is the unchanging, unwavering, and unswerving One. As the true witness He is steadfast, reliable, and true to His Word. As sovereign Lord He sees through all the sham and shallowness of our life. He sees beyond all the facades, pretenses, and outward show. His eyes penetrate these disguises and tear away exterior orthodoxy. The Lord Jesus, as the faithful and true witness, sees and knows the actual conditions in the assembly, despite the fervent activity.
The Lord introduces Himself as the beginning of the creation of God: The Lord is the origin and the ruler of creation. He flung the stars into space and keeps them in their orbit. See Isaiah 40 and Genesis 8:22. He controls everything, and by Him all things hold together. Note at this point the description of the Lord in Revelation 1 and consider its effect on John. In these incomparable attributes the Lord stands before this wretched church, penetrates its camouflage, and exposes it completely in the white light of His inscrutable presence.
At the beginning of Revelation 3:15 we have the Lord’s message to this erring church. What a startling message, “Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.” This church had been reduced to room temperature. It was a compromising, fraternizing church. It was cold to spiritual things, but hot to the world and the flesh. Despite its show and frenzied activity, the Lord knew the unspiritual condition and said, “I know your works and I know your true spiritual condition, and unless you change your ways, I will spit or spew you out of my mouth.” There would have been some hope for the Laodiceans if they had been stone cold, but to be lukewarm and sit on the fence and steer a middle course in smug self-sufficiency was a condition without hope.
In Revelation 3:17 we see that the tragedy of this church is that it was ignorant of its true spiritual condition. It was dangerously ill with the sickness of complacency, and self satisfaction, but was unaware of it. This was a popular, prosperous, and proud church, but it was a powerless church. Laodicea had influence, numbers, and gifts. It could boast of its attainments, intellect, and had other attractive qualities. It was proud of these things. To have these things at the expense of true love for Jesus Christ is an abomination and if not repented of will end in judgment.
Listen to the cry of these insensitive believers, “We are rich, we are wealthy, we have need of nothing.” The Lord replies to their boasting, “Thou knowest not.” Oh, the tragedy of insensitivity. This assembly was anesthetized. [Notice at this point what the Lord said. Describe the One who is speaking.] Notice Revelation 1:12-18, where we find the statement, “You are wretched and miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” Let us analyze these words:
Wretched - They were inferior to God’s standards; they were disqualified spiritually. Their fervent activity was worthless and valueless. They were Spiritless, and spiritually dead.
Miserable - Despite their affluence they were poverty-stricken, spiritually ruined, and had no use for God.
They were poor - They were destitute of true riches. They were barren, stagnant, and unproductive.
Blind - They were blind to their wretched state and blind to the Lord’s glory. They had lost their vision and were dying and were unaware of it.
Naked - Despite their fine clothes, they were destitute of divine righteousness. Their revolting naked condition was sickening to the Lord.
Revelation 3:18 says, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire [...]” This church despite its affluence was devoid of everything of spiritual worth. Neither riches nor fleshly efforts can buy spiritual worth. Spiritual riches can only be had by repentance and yielded-ness to God. “I counsel you to buy of me white raiment, that you may be clothed, and that your shameful nakedness may be covered.” They were urged to buy white clothes, which represent the true righteousness of God. “I counsel you to buy of me eye salve to anoint your eyes that you may see.” This church needed spiritual vision. They were bereft of spiritual discernment. Their eyes needed to be anointed with the eye salve of heaven to restore their spiritual vision.
After reading Revelation 3:19, we ask, “How can a local church recapture its spiritual values, its spiritual virtues, and its spiritual vision?” The answer is in a single word, “REPENT.” To repent is the last thing a sinner wants to do. It is the last thing a saint wants to do. We would rather do anything than repent. Despite their unresponsiveness, the Lord loved them, and because He loved them He rebuked them saying, “Those whom I love I discipline.” When rebuke fails, then He chastens. All His overtures are rejected and He is forced to leave them.
This appeal is to the individual. Internal conditions have forced Him out of the church. We see Him standing, knocking, and speaking. What a display of love and grace. This verse can be used in the Gospel. In this materialistic church there would be unsaved members. What a beautiful picture this gives of the Lord standing outside, pleading with men and women to come to Him. There is also a strong appeal to the worldly believer, the carnal believer, to open up their heart to the Lord and allow Him to come in.
Holman Hunt has captured the strong appeal both to the sinner and the saint in his painting: “Jesus, the Light of the world.” For those who hear and open their hearts and allow the Lord to come in, there are manifold blessings, the Lord says, “I will come into him and sup with him and he with me.” It is comforting to know that if we come out or we are cast out by the unspiritual that there is One who will receive us, and fellowship with us, and eat with us. Consider the blind man of John 9.
[Consider the promise that is given to the one who overcomes.] The reward to the one who overcomes is that he will sit on the Lord’s throne with Him. The throne is the sign of royal dominion and authority. The Lord did not reach His throne because of who He was. He is there because of His life of patience and obedience, and because of His glorious death for the Father’s glory. The conqueror’s path lies before us. We are to come out and be separate. The Lord’s example is our encouragement. His footprints are our guide marks. The reward is a glorious one. We will be associated with Christ in His kingdom. The Laodicean conqueror is promised a share of Christ’s glory. Surely this is a rich reward for the brief, though rough, struggle in overcoming the Laodicean element that is all around us.