The Letter to the Church in Laodicea (Rev 3:14-22)

December 17, 2016 — Leave a comment

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Summary of Past Weeks

The Letter to the Church in Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7)
The Letter to the Church in Smyrna (Rev 2:8-11)
The Letter to the Church in Pergamum (Rev 2:12-17)
The Letter to the Church in Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29)
The Letter to the Church in Sardis (Rev 3:1-6)
The Letter to the Church in Philadelphia (Rev 3:7-13)

B. Text of Rev 3:14-22

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation: ‘I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! You say, “I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!” And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference. Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne. Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.’” (Revelation 3:14–22, NLT)

C. Background and History of the City of Laodicea

The city of Laodicea was located 40 miles south east of Philadelphia. It was wealthy because of its production of black wool cloth, eye ointment and location as a major banking center. The city was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 60. Because the city was so wealthy it was able to rebuild without outside assistance. Yet, because of their economic security it was easy for the believers in the city to be content and lazy in their faith (Walvoord, Revelation, 87; Mulholland, Revelation [2011], 454).

The city’s water supply plays an important role in Jesus’s letter. The city had no fresh water supply. Therefore, drinking water was carried from the springs or the river in the valley below. Utility water was piped in from hot mineral springs about six miles away. By the time this water reached Laodicea it was lukewarm and because of the high mineral content would cause someone to vomit (Mulholland, Revelation [2011], 452). Six miles north of Laodicea was a city called “Hierapolis” which was a city well known for its hot springs. Hierapolis became so well known for its warm water healing powers that it became a major healing center for people. Ten miles to the east of Laodicea was the city of Colossae which was known for its cold drinking water. Laodicea had no water supply of its own. It was a city located at a junction of trade routes for the commercial and military value (not for natural or agricultural value) (Osborne, Revelation, 205).

The church in Laodicea was older and well established. However, the economic efficiently of the area had made Christians spiritually complacent.

II. CORRESPONDENT (3:14)

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation:” (Revelation 3:14, NLT)

III. COMPLAINT (3:15-17)

A. Neither Hot nor Cold (v. 15)

“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other!” (Rev 3:15, NLT)

1. Hot

As a “hot” believer or church Christ hopes that they show genuine fervor and leave no question about their strong faith in Jesus Christ (Walvoord, Revelation, 89). Or, it could refer to the healing mineral waters of the hot springs near Hierapolis. Hierapolis was famous for its hot water that was known for its healing powers.

2. Cold

As a “cold” believer or church Christ describes the unbelieving world’s reaction to Christ (Walvoord, Revelation, 89). Or, it could refer to the fresh waters of Colossae. Colossae was famous for its cold, refreshing springs.

3. Distinct from Culture

Some say that the waters simply indicate that the Laodicean believers should just be distinct from their culture (Mulholland, Revelation [2011], 452).

B. Lukewarm Water (v. 16)

“But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!” (Rev 3:16, NLT)

C. Wretched, Miserable, Poor, Blind, and Naked (v. 17)

“You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” (Rev 3:17, NLT)

The city of Laodicea was very wealthy. This wealth and self-sufficiently led to complacency in their faith. Because they were materially rich they assumed that they were spiritually rich. Now, the problem with the believers in Laodicea was not that they were rich, but it was the attitude they received as a result of their wealth.

IV. COMMAND (3:18-19)

A. Items from Jesus for Sale (v. 18)

“So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see.” (Rev 3:18, NLT)

As mentioned in the introduction, Laodicea was famous and wealthy because of its production of wool cloth. Using the imagery and local knowledge, Jesus tells the Laodiceans to purchase white cloth which will cover their nakedness and rescue them from darkness and make them righteous

B. The Behavior Jesus Wants (v. 19)

“I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.” (Rev 3:19, NLT)

Jesus tells those in church who really are Christians but ask like lukewarm people around them to repent and to start acting like Christians because God loves them, if they discipline themselves then God won’t have to.

V. COVENANT (3:20-21)

A. Jesus Knocks at the Door (v. 20)

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” (Rev 3:20, NLT)

1. A Closer Look at Rev 3:20

a) “Look!”

First, Jesus called attention by saying, “Look!’ (NLT) or “Listen” (NET) or “Behold” (ESV). These translations come from the Greek word ἰδου which is an aorist, middle, imperative of εἰδον, which is from the principle part ὁραω meaning “I see, notice, experience.” This word is often used to heighten the awareness of the reader and to grab the reader’s attention.

b) “I am standing at the door”

After grabbing the attention of the readers and hearers Jesus said, “I am standing,” which is the Greek word, ἑστηκα. This is a perfect tense verb but with the present force (Wallace, Greek Grammar, 579-580). One commentary says that this perfect tense can “indicate that Jesus took this stance at some previous point and continues to maintain it” (M. Robert Mulholland, Revelation, [2011], 18:463). However, the better explanation is that this verb is “lexically nuanced” because there is little distinction between the act and results (Wallace, Greek Grammar, 580).

c) “and I am knocking.”

Included in Jesus’ statement that he was standing at the door was that he also was knocking. This comes from the verb κρουω which means “I strike, knock.” This verb is the present, active, indicative form with a present progressive force. The present progressive force describes a scene that is in progress (Wallace, Greek Grammar, 518-519).

d) “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door”

This first clause, “If anyone hears my voice,” introduces a third class conditional statement with ἐαν plus a verb ἀκουςῃ, which is in the subjunctive mood. This third class conditional statement is uncertain of fulfillment but still is likely to be true (Wallace, Greek Grammar, 699). The referent here for “my voice” is Jesus’ voice, originally seen in Rev 1:17-18. The second clause, “and opens the door,” includes the second verb of the third class conditional statement which is uncertain of fulfillment but likely to be true. The verb used here is ἀνοιξῃ which is an action to be followed after the hearing of Jesus’ voice in the first clause. The “door” in this clause is the same door that Jesus was standing at and knocking on earlier in verse.

e) “I will enter the house”

Next, the future tense verb, ἐλευσομαι, is used in a way that if someone both hears Jesus’ voice and opens the door, then Jesus would enter the house. The Greek phrase, προς αὐτον, would seem to be translated “into him,” but this is an incorrect use of ἐλευσομαι προς αὐτον. The correct translation as seen above is “I will enter the house.”

That translation is a dynamic translation of “I will enter to/towards him.” Since Jesus was standing at the door and knocking, it is likely that the “entering” of Jesus was to be inside the house. If John was trying to describe that Jesus would “come into him,” he would not have used ἐλευσομαι προς but instead would have used ἐλευσομαι εἰς. Of all eight uses of ἐλευσομαι προς in the New Testament, that phrase is never used to describe penetration into a person. Instead, it is used to describe coming in to the presence of a person or a building. Examples of ἐλευσομαι προς are “the girl hurried back to the king” (Mark 6:25, NLT), “Joseph . . . went to Pilate” (Mark 15:43, NLT), “Gabriel came to her [Mary] (Luke 1:28, NLT), Peter “had a vision in which he saw an angel of God coming toward him” (Acts 10:3, NLT), “you enter the home of Gentiles” (Acts 11:3, NLT), Paul and Silas “returned to the home of Lydia” (Acts 16:40, NLT), Paul “went to the synagogue service” (Acts 17:2, NLT), “Paul went in and prayed for him” (Acts 28:8, NLT).

Therefore, it is clear that in Rev 3:20 Jesus would go into the house and eat with the person who let him in. Jesus would not go into the person who let him in, but he would go in to the person who let him through the door.

2. Is Rev 3:20 for the Lost or Believers?

The question still remains, is Revelation 3:20 a gospel invitation to a lost person or an invitation to believers?

a) For Weak and Self-Sufficient Believers

It is important to remember that Rev 3:20 is included in a passage where seven churches are addressed. In this passage Jesus provided a commendation of the first six churches (Ephesus 2:2-3, Symrna 2:9, Pergamum 2:13, Thyatira 2:19, Sardis 3:1b, Philadelphia 3:8-9). However, Jesus had nothing positive to say about the church of Laodicia. From the very beginning Jesus said that they were neither hot nor cold (Rev 3:15), but they were lukewarm. Jesus said that he would spit them out of his mouth (Rev 3:16). The people were content saying that they were rich and had everything that they wanted; therefore they did not need a thing (Rev 3:17). Jesus saw them as wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Rev 3:17). Jesus wanted them to buy gold, white garments, and ointment for their eyes (Rev 3:18). Jesus said that he would correct and discipline them to get them to do that because he loved them.

The use of the word “church” lends the interpreter to believe that this is a church of believers, and therefore Rev 3:20 is an invitation to a believer. This Greek word, ἐκκλησια is used Rev 1:20; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14 and can be used in the NT several different ways. It can describe a regularly summoned legislative body (assembly) or a causal gathering of people (gathering), but the likely use here in Rev 3:14 to refer to the church in Laodicea is a people with shared belief in Christianity (community or congregation) (BDAG, 303-304). While it is likely that within any church there are some people who are not true believers, the focus of Revelation 3:20 is directed toward weak believers (John F. Walvoord, “Revelation” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 941-942).

While the church was lukewarm (Rev 3:15-16) and content in their money (Rev 3:17), Jesus shared that he desired a relationship with them. This church likely included believers as the majority, but those believers had not been in close fellowship with Jesus.

b) For the Lost

While I have heard many people say that this verse is a invitation to the lost, I have yet to see any commentator take this position.

B. The Victorious Sit with Jesus and the Father (v. 21)

“Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne.” (Rev 3:21, NLT)

The promise for believers to be able to sit with Jesus is not new. “Jesus replied, ‘I assure you that when the world is made new and the Son of Man sits upon his glorious throne, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’” (Matt 19:28, NLT)

VI. THE PROMISE (3:22)

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.” (Rev 3:22, NLT)

V. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

A Hot Faith

The Laodiceans are described as “lukewarm” in their faith. While they might have been on fire in their commitment to love God and follow him. Unlike the Laodiceans, we need to have a strong and active faith. This faith should permeate all areas of our lives and be strong so that others see it.

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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