WHAT WOULD JESUS SAY? Someone’s Knocking at the Door: The Letter to Laodicea Revelation 3:14-22
Philippe R. Sterling
The Lord Jesus judged the church at Laodicea that was materialistic. One of the games I loved to play as an adolescent was Monopoly. According to my sisters I was ruthless in the acquisition of property and play money. In the context of the game, I was rich. Once the game was over, it didn’t matter. What would happen if I went to the store and said, “Give me an iPhone; here’s $1000,” and hand the clerk the play money? It wouldn’t work.
A similar thing is true of our earthly lives. In a way, we’re playing a game here. Some people get a lot of money. For the moment, they’re the winners. They can buy a lot of things that are in the long run, worthless. It may be a Maserati. But step out of this world, and that car doesn’t mean a thing. All that wealth is just play money when you look at it from God’s eternal perspective.
For the winner of Monopoly to think, “I’m rich!” because he has a handful of play money would be foolish. It’s just as foolish for a billionaire to think a portfolio of expensive real estate and blue-chip investments makes him rich in God’s eyes. The church at Laodicea made that mistake.
The seventh church of Revelation was at Laodicea. This city was forty-five miles southeast of Philadelphia. It lay along an important trade route stretching from Ephesus through the inland area of what is now Turkey. It was located in a valley along with two sister cities, Colossae and Hierapolis.
Antiochus II founded Laodicea and named it for his wife, Laodice. The Romans took control of the city in 129 BC. It became large and prosperous.
There were three major industries in Laodicea. The first was banking. It was an extremely wealthy city. After an earthquake in AD 17 devastated the area, the Roman Empire pitched in financially to help many of the cities. Laodicea refused this aid and chose to rebuild itself. A second major industry was eye care. There was an ointment produced in Laodicea that was famous for curing eye ailments. A third major industry was textiles. The city produced a special wool that was popular throughout the empire.
Laodicea was a popular place for wealthy people to retire. The wealth of the city led her to be proud and self-sufficient. Unfortunately, the material prosperity of the city helped produce a materialistic church.
Another thing we can note about this city is for all its wealth, it had a frustrating water problem. There wasn’t a fresh water source nearby. Water had to be brought in by an aqueduct from a spring six miles to the south. We’re not sure whether this was a cold spring or a hot spring. But it didn’t matter, because as the water traveled the six-mile aqueduct, it cooled or heated to a lukewarm temperature. Cold water refreshes. Hot water has many useful benefits. Lukewarm water needs to be cooled to be tasteful or heated to be useful.
Portrayal of Jesus
Jesus called Himself the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning (Origin or Source) of God’s creation. The solemnity of the titles prepared the way for the searching and severe criticism that followed. Amen is a Hebrew word for “Yes!” What Jesus says stands. Jesus is trustworthy. What He promises, He will do. What He threatens, He will carry out. Jesus is the Origin and Source of all that there is. Everything and everyone answer to Him.
Praise for the Church
Jesus knows the deeds of His people. There were no words of commendation for the Laodiceans.
Criticism of the Church
Jesus called the church lukewarm. Both cold and hot water were useful; lukewarm water was not. The believers were so wishy-washy that they were useless to the Lord, and distasteful.
The believers considered themselves wealthy and in need of nothing. Jesus described them as “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” They had the finest eye medicines; how could He call them blind? They produced beautiful clothing; how could they be naked? All their material wealth was insignificant in light of their spiritual needs. In fact, their material wealth blinded them to their spiritual needs.
In language these commercially prosperous believers could understand, Jesus counseled them to buy gold from Him that they might become rich, acquire white garments that they might clothe themselves, and anoint their eyes with eye salve that they might see. There will be gold in the age to come. We acquire it by our refined character in this age. We may wonder what need would we have of gold. Our dwelling will be made of gold. We may have gold threads in our clothing. We may have a crown made of gold. There will be gold in many facets of life. We will want that gold.
Jesus counseled the acquisition of white garments from Him. In Rev 3:5 He mentioned the white garments, and now mentions them again. Instead of “white” we could put the word “bright,” bright shining garments. There will be many facets of these garments, not just one layer, many layers indicating a life of faithfulness. Unfaithful believers will be naked in the sense of lacking these garments. I do not want to be lacking the garments which indicate a dedication to the Lord in this age. Every believer has the robe of Christ’s righteousness as a free gift, but I also want garments which depict my love for Jesus in this age. He said that to lack those garments would be shameful in the age to come. It’s great that we are grounded in the free gift of eternal life to all who believe; but let us not lose sight of the value of what we do after we are born again.
Jesus counseled the believers to anoint their eyes with eye salve, that they might see. They needed to ask God’s Spirit to help them understand and apply God’s Word. God might then remove their spiritual blindness and help them to see (2 Pet 1:9).
Penalty or Reward
Jesus still loved this church and was concerned about its future. There was hope if they would repent, change their spiritual course. Jesus reproves and disciplines those He loves. He reproves us through His messengers, our pastors and teachers. This letter to Laodicea is a reproof. He disciplines us by allowing us to reap the fruit of our sinful deeds.
The believers needed to be zealous and repent. They were to get excited about the Lord and turn back to Him. No more of this wishy-washy stuff!
Jesus disciplines us because He wants to have fellowship with us. He wants to be welcomed in our lives, to be a friend to us, like someone we’d invite for dinner.
Verse 20 pictures Jesus as standing at the door of the church, knocking and seeking entrance. This is not an evangelistic appeal to the unsaved. The Lord of the church pled with this particular church to open the door of the church to Him for fellowship with Him. Jesus extended the gracious promise that if any believer opened the door, He would come in and fellowship (dine) with him.
Paul McCartney wrote the song “Let ‘Em In.”
Someone's knockin' at the door Somebody ringin' the bell Someone's knockin' at the door Somebody's ringin' the bell Do me a favor Open the door, let 'em in, yeah, let 'em in
Sister Suzy, Brother John Martin Luther, Phil and Don Brother Michael, Antie Gin Open the door, let 'em in, oh yeah
We can dine with the Lord in this age though worship and prayer. We can dine with Jesus now figuratively, but in the age to come we will literally eat meals in His presence and talk to Him.
Promise to Overcomers
Jesus promised the overcomer a seat with Him on His throne. Among the many believers of this age, only overcomers will be granted that honor. Not everyone will have a crown and sit on a throne with Christ.
Every believer will have the righteousness of Christ. We will all have a glorified body. We will all be citizens of the kingdom. There might be a few other things which we will all have in common. But after that, for most of the things which we will have, there will be great differences in the measure of glory, and of capacity to serve, and of intimacy with the Lord.
Our relationship with the Lord will be different for each one of us. There are some who will have a close physical proximity to the King of kings. They will have access to His immediate physical presence in a way that others will not. It will not be based on how famous we were in this age or how big our ministry was. It will be based on our faithfulness and love for Him.
The overcomer rewards include the type of the dwelling place we will have in the New Jerusalem, the garments we will wear, the food we will enjoy, the intimacy we will experience with Christ, the status and authority we will have. These privileges will not be solely for our benefit. We have been created to glorify God by loving and serving others. These privileges will enable overcomers to do just that in the millennial kingdom and in the new heaven and the new earth.
The letter ends with the general admonition: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” The letter has application for all churches.
What Would Jesus Say (WWJS) to the materialistic church: “Let me in!” Jesus stands at the door and knocks. He calls out, “Let Me in. I want to dine with you.” The letters to the seven churches of Asia constitute a comprehensive message to every church. Churches today can “hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Like the church at Ephesus, we are exhorted to renew continually our love for Christ. Like the church at Smyrna, we are exhorted not to be afraid when persecuted and remain faithful. Like the church at Pergamum, we are exhorted not to succumb to false teaching or tolerate it. Like the church at Thyatira, we are exhorted to say “No!” to immorality and “Yes!” to holiness. Like the church at Sardis, we are exhorted to wake up from spiritual slumber, watch for the return of the Lord, and make a good reputation for ourselves. Like the church at Philadelphia, we are exhorted to keep up our good work and watch for the coming of the Lord. Like the church at Laodicea, we are exhorted to be spiritually vibrant and fellowship with the Lord. Christ will reward overcomers and grant them the privilege of co-rulership with Him.