In Revelation, the church in Laodicea received a warning and correction from Jesus that had to do with how they saw themselves.
To the angel of the assembly in Laodicea write: “The Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of God’s creation, says these things: ‘I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing;’ and don’t know that you are the wretched one, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.'” (Rev. 3:14-17, all scripture references from WEB translation)
The things that the Laodiceans didn’t know about themselves were a threat to their spiritual position in Christ. He threatens to vomit them out of Him if they are not zealous to repent (Rev. 3:19). That’s pretty serious, and we can learn from His advice to them how to avoid similar mistakes.
Those who see the letters in Revelation as pictures of eras in the church tend to agree that we are currently living in the Laodicean era. And even if that’s not the case, those who “have an ear” are still instructed to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 3:22). If we, like the Laodiceans, are ignorant of about our true spiritual condition then we need to heed this warning to wake up to the truth and change how we’re living.
Wretched and Miserable
Jesus starts out by telling the people who think they’re okay that they are in fact “wretched and miserable.” It reminds me of what Paul said in one of his letters: “let him who thinks he stands be careful that he doesn’t fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). Each of the words translated “wretched” and “miserable” are only used one other place in the Greek New Testament.
What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me out of the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord! So then with the mind, I myself serve God’s law, but with the flesh, sin’s law. There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who don’t walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (Rom. 7:24-8:1)
Paul’s mindset was completely different than the Laodiceans. He knew he was in a wretched state and the only solution was to turn to Jesus for deliverance. This is reflected in his use of the word for miserable/pitiable as well.
If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable. But now Christ has been raised from the dead. He became the first fruit of those who are asleep. (1 Cor. 15:19-20)
It is a lack of solid faith in Christ that makes someone wretched and miserable. Saying we follow Him, as the Laodiceans surely did, isn’t enough. We need to recognize how much we need Him and place our hope in Him. And we need to change if He points out there is something wrong with how we’ve been doing things.
Poor, but you could be rich
The Laodiceans didn’t know they were poor by Jesus’ standards. In Greek, this word refers to “abject poverty, utter helplessness, [and] complete destitution” (Zodhiates’ dictionary entry G4434). Laodicea was a prosperous city and the people thought they were rich. However, their physical riches didn’t translate into spiritual things.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matt. 5:3)
We need to recognize our “spiritual helplessness” (to quote Zodhiates again) if we’re to be in God’s kingdom. Christ is here to “preach Good News to the poor,” but in order to hear Him we need to recognize how much we need His riches.
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich (Rev. 3:18)
A recognition of our spiritual poverty should lead us to turn to Christ, the one who gives us all things. The “all things” that God gives us include His words, which are “flawless words, as silver refined in a clay furnace, purified seven times” (Ps. 12:6). It also includes the refining process we go through which makes us more like God through trials (Ps. 66:10; Is 48:10; Zech. 13:9; Mal 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:6-7). Christ can and will purify and refine us, and through this process make us heirs to true riches.
Blind, but you could see
The Greek word for blind is derived from a word that means “to envelop with smoke, be unable to see clearly.” When we’re spiritually blind, we’re in a fog that we can’t see through. Figurative blindness makes people “ignorant, stupid, [and] slow of understanding” (Zodhiates, G5185).
For he who lacks these things is blind, seeing only what is near, having forgotten the cleansing from his old sins. (2 Pet. 1:9)
Jesus counsels Laodicea to “buy from me … eye salve to anoint your eyes that you may see” (Rev. 3:18). What kind of eye salve that might be is hinted at in Peter’s epistle. When he says “these things” in the verse we quoted above, he’s referring to a list he gave earlier: faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (2 Pet. 1:5-7).
For if these things are yours and abound, they make you to not be idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. … Therefore, brothers, be more diligent to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never stumble. (2 Pet. 1:8, 10).
We need to stay close to Jesus, never losing sight of the fact that He cleansed us from sin and we owe Him our lives. The knowledge that He “has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” should give us a vision for how to live. We can “become partakers of the divine nature” if we keep our eyes on Him (2 Pet. 1:3-4).
Naked, but you could be clothed
Nakedness, obviously, refers to a lack of clothing. What kind of clothing they lacked is revealed when Christ tells Laodicea, “I counsel you to buy from me … white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed” (Rev. 3:18).
White garments appear several times in Revelation, and a few other places in the Bible as well. God the Father, Jesus Christ, and angels are all pictured in white (Dan. 7:9, Matt. 17:1-2, Mark 16:5). Those who come to Christ for spiritual renewal and cleaning also get to wear white.
One of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are arrayed in the white robes, who are they, and where did they come from?” I told him, “My lord, you know.” He said to me, “These are those who came out of the great suffering. They washed their robes, and made them white in the Lamb’s blood. (Rev. 7:13-14)
God has been asking people to let Him make their sins which are “red like crimson” “as white as snow” for centuries (Is. 1:18). Like the spiritually blind who forgot they were cleansed of their sins, Laodicea didn’t realize they were missing the white garment that comes with having the shame of our sins covered by God.
Laodicea needed to be more like the “few names in Sardis that didn’t defile their garments. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy” (Rev. 3:4). We also need to do this, asking for the white garments and then living a life that keeps them white and is full of “the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:8).
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