May 29: Revelation 3:14-22

Last stop: Laodicea. This week concludes our series in the letters to the seven churches, and forewarning, Laodicea is a bit of a downer. All six of the previous churches received some sort of praise from Jesus for their faithfulness in trial and commitment to his truth. Not so with Laodicea; Jesus apparently didn’t find anything praiseworthy in them when he issued the harshest warning thus far in the book (“I will spit you out of my mouth”). But don’t miss the surprising end of the passage—Jesus’ sternest words yet are followed by his most tender promise yet.
Like the other letters, this one starts with a description of Jesus, “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation” (3:14). Amen is a Hebrew word used as an affirmation at the end of prayers, and it can be translated something like “it is true” or “let it be so.” “The faithful and true witness” is an elaboration on “the Amen,” pointing out that Jesus is perfectly in alignment with reality and what is true and trustworthy (in contrast to Laodicea’s faithlessness). He sees what is true (ex. “I know your works”) but he’s also by nature trustworthy and sure (in contrast to the things in which the Laodiceans were trusting).
Unlike the other letters, Jesus skips any commendation and skips ahead to condemnation with a famous charge: “you are neither cold nor hot” (3:15). We often read the charge of Laodicea’s lukewarmness as a sign of their failing spiritual fervor, as if the fires of their love for Jesus had grown weak. But that begs the question—why would Jesus say, “would that you were either cold or hot”? You’d expect cold to be a bad thing, not a better option.

Likely, in the context, hot and cold refer to two helpful states of water, hot to cure the sick (such as the mineral springs six miles north of Laodicea, which were used for exactly that) and cold to refresh the weary. What Jesus is targeting isn’t their lack of “on-fire-ness” but their unfaithful service in the kingdom of God, which was likely accompanied by a lackluster devotion. For this reason, Jesus indicates how out of step with his desires they are, so much that he says he will spit (literally “vomit”) them out of his mouth.

And why were they unfaithful? Jesus points in verse 17 to their claims of self-sufficiency, which has at its source a love for the world that has outcompeted their love for Christ. Laodicea was a thriving, wealthy city known for its banking industry, fine clothing, and local medical school (known for making “Phrygian powder” used as a salve for the eyes). And she liked to think that she stood by her own strength; for example, when an earthquake caused serious damage to the city in 60 AD, Laodicean leaders refused funds offered by Rome, opting instead to rebuild on their own dime.

Jesus is pointing out that this same foolishness has seeped into the church; “I am rich, I have prospered, I need nothing.” But Jesus, trustworthy and true, sees the real situation. They aren’t rich but poor, not finely dressed but naked, not healed but blind. He directs them to stop turning to the offerings of the world and to instead come to him for wealth, clothing, and sight.

We should find Jesus’ charge here sobering. We should ask ourselves, where have we trusted the world more than he who is trustworthy and true? Where has a love for the world stifled a love for Jesus? Where has chasing after all the world seems to offer left us with little time (or love) for participating in the work of the Kingdom? And perhaps in particular we should see how this word strikes at American culture, which so values independence and idealizes pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. Where God moves in our hearts this week, we should heed his word and repent!

But sometimes that word repent can be just as repulsive as lukewarm water. Many of us hear negative connotations behind the word, for any number of reasons. So, in our discussion, we’ll turn to Isaiah 55:1-9, which is being referenced here in Rev. 3. There we’ll see God’s heart in repentance most clearly. “Let the wicked forsake his way…let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him” (55:7). God earnestly desires to forgive, so instead of crushing poor, wretched sinners he exercises boundless patience with them, urging them to turn to him and find the refuge they long for.

Finally, we’ll look at Jesus’ precious promises in Rev. 3:19-21. Jesus promises to discipline the one he loves (cf. Prov. 3:12; Heb. 12:6), but more than this, Jesus describes his invitation to repentance as him standing at the door and knocking. Repentance isn’t dragging yourself home to your angry father or picking up the pieces of your life and trying to make yourself presentable. It’s letting Jesus in. As much as repentance involves turning from sin and turning to God, an act of self-correction, we should never lose sight that all repentance is enabled and emboldened by the work of the Spirit, and that Jesus is on the threshold ready to help us.

And more than that: Jesus doesn’t just commit his presence but his fellowship. His promise that he will come and eat with us and seat us on his throne is a precious source of present and future hope, that he will be present in fellowship with us now, while we still wrestle with sin, but also will rule with us in the Age to Come, when sin will be no more. To those who know they are poor, this promise is the greatest treasure. To those who know they are naked, it is the most regal arrayment. To those who know they are blind, it is the source of all light and life.

Questions for Discussion
Revelation Resources →

• Could someone read Revelation 3:14-22 for us?

• What stood out to you from the passage?

• Why do you think the church at Laodicea was “lukewarm” to Jesus?

• When you think of repentance, what do you typically think or feel?

• What do you think Jesus means by inviting the Laodiceans to buy gold, white clothing, and ointment for their eyes?

• Could someone read Isaiah 55:1-9?

• How does this passage help us understand God’s heart when he calls us to repentance?

• How do you think Jesus is calling you to respond to his word this week?

• Turn back to Revelation 3, and take a look at verses 19-21. How can Jesus’ promises here encourage and sustain you?