Summary: The church that thinks it has it all has nothing at all.
Unto the Church in Laodicea, Write
Laodicea was the seventh and last church addressed by Jesus, completing the semicircle the seven churches made of which Jesus was pictured as being in the midst. It was a wealthy city, making money from its woolen garment industry. It was also a large banking center. The minerals which came down from the hot springs at the nearby city of Hierapolis was compounded into an eye salve which helped prevent blindness. Laodicea also had a medical school. It’s location at the crossroad of two major highways made it a center of trade as well. The city was so wealthy that when the city was destroyed by and earthquake a few years before the writing of Revelation, the inhabitants turned down Roman aid with its attached strings and decided to rebuild the city from their own pockets.
Besides being prone to earthquakes, the Achilles’ heel of Laodicea was its undrinkable water. Even though it was located on a river, the water from the river came from two sources. The one was the overflow from the hot mineral springs at nearby Hierapolis and the cold refreshing water of Colossae, which resulted in the water of the river being warm and salty. Water had to be sent through and aqueduct from miles away.
Laodicea was also a free city which means the Romans allowed it to rule itself so long as it could maintain good order. Life was easy at Laodicea, and its residents felt secure in their wealth. Status quo was the order of the day. The cultured people there would be generally tolerant of religion so long as they did not rock the boat too much. Apparently, the Christian church there did not make many waves as there does not seem to have been any persecution of the Christians in Laodicea.
The church there was probably started there by one of the followers of Paul before it came under the jurisdiction of St. John.
For all its power and wealth, Laodicea is today a forgotten ruin like so many other ancient cities that were once influential.
Exposition of the Text
Jesus introduces Himself to the church at Laodicea as the “Amen”. This is a Hebrew word which has the base meaning of “so let it be”. In this sense, it would describe the creation of the world itself which was spoken into existence by this same Jesus. He spoke, and it came into being. Jesus often used the word in His pronouncements in the gospels. In John’s gospel, He uses the double Amen. This word was and still is used at the end of a prayer with a sense of “may what I have prayed for come to pass” or as a response to something in which the hearer responds that He believes what he/she has just heard has come from God. The fact that Jesus started with “Amen” rather than finished with it indicates that whatsoever He speaks is God’s word that will come to pass because it is God the Son who has spoken it. Here in Revelation, He begins His message by calling himself the “Amen”.
Jesus follows the Amen with the description of Himself as the “faithful witness” which refers back to Revelation 1:5. The idea of this term is a faithfulness unto death. In Revelation 1:5, Jesus follows this term with “the firstborn from the dead”. Here He calls Himself “the beginning of the creation of God”. Some feel that these two terms are parallel to each other as a result. This would make the resurrection of Jesus as the beginning of the new creation. There is certainly something to be said about this, but Jesus is also presented in Revelation as the creator of all creation as in Genesis 1. The word “beginning” also has the idea of “source of” as well as “ruler over”. In this context, the sovereignty of Jesus seems to fit the message to Laodicea best. But as John is famous for using double meanings in His choice of terms, he may mean all of these things here. It would certainly not be wrong to understand that Jesus is the beginning of the new creation as well as creator of the universe who spoke it into existence. As creator, He then is its rightful owner and ruler.
Jesus then continues with “I know you”. This means that as the Lord of all, He is aware of what is going on in Laodicea. And the Lord is not happy with what He sees. He calls them lukewarm, and says His preference was that they would either be hot or cold. Many have seen this as meaning that Jesus prefers people who are either on fire for Him or completely cold to the gospel. There is some truth that lukewarmess acts as an inoculation against catching the live form of Christianity. There is also some truth that violent opponents to the gospel experience dramatic conversions. This happened quite often in Wesley’s revivals when hired thugs sent to disrupt or even harm John Wesley were struck down and converted. By the way, it was the lukewarm Anglican officials who often hired these people.