Click phonetics for the pronunciation of Laodicea.
“To the angel of the Church in Laodicea, write this:
“‘The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the source of God’s creation, says this: “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich, and white garments to put on so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed, and buy ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.
“‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me. I will give the victor the right to sit with me on my throne, as I myself first won the victory and sit with my Father on his throne.
“‘Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”Revelation 3:14-22
The Cosmic Conflict
In the book of Revelation, the pilgrim Church stands in the crossfire of an intense spiritual battle. Locked in combat between God and Satan, the Church must endure persecution and suffering on the way toward the promised “new heavens and new earth.” The struggle to overcome the internal enemies of acedia and apathy must also be waged.
Letters to the Seven Churches
Jesus Christ, the source of the book of Revelation, sends his angel “to his servant John” to unveil the conflict from the perspective of the throne of God (Revelation 1:1). A voice commands John, caught up in the Spirit: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea” (Revelation 1:10-11).
Of all the churches, Laodicea alone receives no praise but only chastisement. Known as Laodicea on the Lycus to distinguish it from other cities of the same name, the fertile region is irrigated by tributaries of that river. In this financial metropolis, bankers and creditors prospered. Luxury exporters of fine, black wool and purple dye dominated the textile market. Its pharmaceutical industry produced world-famous eye salves. Such was its wealth that after a shattering earthquake in A.D. 61, the Roman historian Tacitus marveled: “Laodicea… without any relief from us, recovered itself by its own resources.”
Tragically, comfortable affluence dulls the spiritual senses. Lukewarm Laodicea, “neither hot nor cold,” repulses the Lord. Lulled into a false sense of security, the rich Laodiceans are truly “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
Remedy for Tepidity
Employing images from Laodicean commerce, Christ advises the financiers to purchase “gold refined by fire” (grace), “white garments” (righteousness and purity of the Lamb), and “eye salve” (kollourion) of the Spirit to open the eyes of the heart.
But with fraternal love, the Lord concludes, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19, ESV). His words recall Proverbs 3:12: “For the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (ESV).
Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts, yearning to be received as our guest.
“‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me. I will give the victor the right to sit with me on my throne, as I myself first won the victory and sit with my Father on his throne.”Revelation 3:20-21
In the Gospel reading, the letter to Laodicea finds a model in Zacchaeus, who zealously repents (Luke 19:1-10). Far from lukewarm, the wealthy tax collector overcomes all obstacles to see Jesus by climbing a sycamore tree. In response to his self-surrender, Jesus graces Zacchaeus by dining at his home. With his heart renewed, the convert pledges half of his possessions to the poor and fourfold restitution for extortion. The once “poor, blind, and naked” tax collector exchanges mammon for Christ’s gold refined by fire, the white garments of the Lamb, and eye salve of the Spirit.
Lukewarm Laodicea, neither hot nor cold,
Lest Christ spit you out, buy his pure, fired gold.
Put on white garments of the Lamb’s purity;
Anoint your eyes with salve so that you may see.