The letters to the seven churches

vii] Laodicea


The final letter is addressed to the church in Laodicea. Here is a church in serious trouble, a lukewarm church, an insipid church, a church that makes Jesus feel sick. If any church needed to be covered with the white robe of God's grace it is Laodicea. They need to repent, they need to ask Christ back into their fellowship, for only then will they be victorious and share in the reign of Christ. As Beale puts it, "Christ condemns the church in Laodicea for its ineffective witness and deplorable spiritual condition, and exhorts its members to persevere by becoming faithful witnesses, renewing their fellowship with him so as to reign with him."


i] Context: See 2:1-7.


ii] Background: See 1:1-8. Laodicea lay on the same major Roman road to the Mediteranian which linked Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis and Philadelphia. The road served as a major trading route from the East and so towns along the way tended to be prosperous. The town of Laodicea was situated on a small plateau rising some two hundred feet above the Lycus valley. The city was founded by Antiochus II around 250BC and remained part of the Selucid empire until it came under Roman control in 133BC. During that time, it was Greek in culture and language. When other cities joined in revolt against Rome, Laodicea remained loyal and so was rewarded accordingly. It became a center of Roman administration, banking and the manufacture of clothing. It even boasted a medical school and manufactured medicines for distribution throughout the empire; it was especially known for its eye remedy, Phrygian powder. The only major problem facing the city was occasional earthquakes and a lack of water. The earthquake in AD60 damaged or destroyed most buildings, along with the aqueduct from Denzili, six miles south. Numerous pagan cults flourished in Laodicea and it seems likely that the church was compromised by syncretism. It is assumed that the church was founded by Epaphras, around the time he founded the Colossian church, during Paul's stay in Ephesus, Acts 19.


iii] Structure: The letter to the church in Laodicea:


to whom, v14a;

"to the angel of the church in Laodicea."

from whom, v14b.

"the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation"

Analysis of the church:

strengths, ???

weaknesses, v15-18. "your are neither cold nor hot."


"be earnest and repent", v19-20;


the one who endures is blessed, v21-22.


iv] Interpretation:

In the seven letters to the churches, 2:1-3:2, John reveals the not yet reality of the kingdom of God, a kingdom inaugurated, yet to be realized. He lets us see the Christian fellowship warts and all. As it was for the church in the first century, so it is for us. We stand at the crossroads of history, of God's now / not yet reign, compromised in the face of a hostile environment. We have survived to this moment in time between the cross and Christ's return, and if we are to share in God's promised reward we must repent, we must turn around to Christ and renew our faith in him, and then we must press forward in faith, we must endure, persevere, conquer.


Laodicea was a city renowned for its financiers, clothing manufacturers and physicians, but Christ's assessment of the church in Laodicea is less than endearing; it is poor, naked and blind. What the church has is a high opinion of itself due to its wealth and status, but as far as Christ is concerned, it is a church which is neither cold nor hot, it is a lukewarm church, a complacent church, a tepid church. As Christ puts it in v16, "you make me sick!"

These are harsh words indeed, but all is not lost. Christ's rebuke has repentance as its intended purpose - "those whom I love I rebuke", v19. If the church does repent, if it stands at the door and knocks, then fellowship with Christ will be restored, v20. Christ will then supply the riches of eternity, the robe of the victorious, and the ointment to see again.


"If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him", v20. At this point in the text an individual response to Christ is usually assumed. It may well be that the church, as a whole, does not repent, but glory is not dependent on a communal repentance; eternal fellowship with Christ is for tiV, "anyone", who hears the clarion call of the gospel and opens their heart to the Lord. This is certainly a greatly loved gospel text and its sentiment is true for a seeker, but given its context and the tendency for John to personalize the response required of a church, Christ is standing at the door of the church and is calling on the church to open its doors and allow him in so that he may restore his relationship with the congregation. So, the verse has communal intent - a complacent church must repent if it wishes to remain in fellowship with Christ.

Text - 3:14

Laodicea - a complacent church: i] Introduction, The destination of the letter is identified, as is its author. Christ again takes on divine titles, here particularly related to his part in revealing divine truth, a revelation that is "faithful and true." The title "ruler of God's creation" is somewhat fraught, but it probably refers to Christ as the foundational member of God's new community, "the beginning of God's new creation"; see below.

tw/ aggelw/ thV en ... ekklhsiaV grafon. Tade legei "to the angel of the church in [Philadelphia] write: ..." See 2:1.

oJ amhn "the Amen" - the amen [says these things]. Nominative subject of the verb "to say." Probably drawn from Isaiah 65:16, the MT having "amen" and LXX "truth". Jesus would often use the term "Amen" to specify the importance of what he was about to say. God is the Amen, the true witness, which title is applied here to Christ.

oJ martus (uV uroV) "[the faithful and true] witness" - Nominative standing in apposition to "the Amen." Christ's testimony is faithful and true, he reveals the truth of the gospel, unlike the Laodiceans "whose witness was virtually nonexistent", Osborne.

hJ arch (h) "the ruler" - ruler / the beginning, source, origin / cause (cause unlikely). Nominative standing in apposition to "the Amen". "Ruler" is possibly intended, as NIV, cf., Col.1:18. If the allusion to Isaiah continues, here 65:17, "behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth", then "the beginning of God's creation", ESV, is intended. Osborne argues for source / origin, Christ was in the beginning with God, cf., Jn.1:2-3, also Smalley. Yes, but more specifically, Christ is "the beginning, not of the original creation, but of the newly created church, or the new age of the church", Beale; the firstborn of the new creation.

thV krisewV (iV ewV) gen. "of God's [creation]" - of the creation [of god]. If we take arch to mean "ruler", then the genitive is adjectival, idiomatic / subordination, limiting "ruler", "ruler over God's creation", but if we take the meaning as "beginning" then the genitive may be classified as verbal, objective, the act of beginning God's creation, so Mathewson, although the function of the genitive is more adjectival, epexegetic, in that it specifies "the beginning" in mind, namely, God's new creation in Christ.


ii] Analysis of the church - weaknesses, v15-18. Having accommodated itself to its Greco-Roman environment, the Christian fellowship in Laodicea is a successful church, wealthy and in need of nothing. Yet, Christ's assessment of the church is that it is "wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked"; it is a lukewarm church, a spiritually barren church. Here is a church that needs to cover itself with the grace of God in order to hide its shame, cover itself as a person would clothe a naked body.

oJti "-" - [i know the works of you] that. Here introducing an epexegetic clause specifying the works, their behavior, in this case the nature of the works, neither hot nor cold. "I am aware of the things done by you, how you are neither cold nor hot", Cassirer.

oute ..... oute "neither [cold] nor [hot]" - neither [cold you are] nor [hot]. A negated comparative construction. An attitude of either friendliness or hostility toward the risen Lord, ie., the imagery is used to describe the nature of the church's commitment to Christ; the Laodiceans are neither, they are just "lukewarm". Smalley notes Rudwick and Green's suggestion that the "hot" and "cold" is not a measure of spiritual commitment, but rather a comparison between the hot medicinal waters of the city of Hierapolis to the north and the cold pure waters of Colossae to the south. Laodicea receives the remains of the water flowing from Hierapolis, lukewarm and sour. So, the "congregation is being chastised for the barrenness of its works."

ofelon (ofeilw) aor. part. "I wish [you were either]" - wishing [you were cold or hot]. "Participle introducing a wish unlikely to be realized", Zerwick, cf., BDF #359(1), eg., 1Cor.4:8. "How I wish you were either one or the other", TEV.


ouJtwV "so" - thus. Here inferential, drawing a logical conclusion from v15.

oJti "because" - because [you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold]. Here causal; "because you are tepid", Barclay.

emesai (emew) aor. inf. "[I am about] to spit [you]" - The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "I am about."

ek + gen. "out of" - from [the mouth of me]. Expressing separation, "away from." This is rather strong language, today expressed as "you make me feel sick."


oJti "-" - because. Here causal; "for you say, I am rich", ESV.

oJti "-" - [you say] that [i am rich and have become wealthy and have no need, (kai) and do not know .......... (v18) therefore i counsel you to buy ......]. Here introducing an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what the Laodiceans say. The sense of the Gk. sentence covering v17-18 rests somewhat on a kai, "and [do not know]." Is it serving as a connective, "and", or consecutive, "and so as a result", or adversative "but", as NIV, TEV, ..., "in fact though you do not realize ...", REB? Note the similarity of Hosea 12:9. The threefold statement of the wealth of the Laodicean church is used for rhetorical force.

ouden adj. "[you do] not [realize]" - [you do] not [know]. Functioning adverbially here; "in no way."

oJti "that" - that [you are the one wretched and pitiful and poor and blind and naked]. Here introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what they do not "know / realize." Note the list of predicate adjectives linked by kai serving to describe the actual spiritual state of the Laodicean church. This construction provides rhetorical force; "you have no eyes to see that you are wretched, pitiable, poverty-stricken, blind and naked", Phillips.


soi dat. pro. "[I counsel] you" - Dative of direct object after the sun prefix verb "to counsel." We may assume an inferential oun, "I counsel you therefore, to buy .....", although Beale handles v18 as if it is the apodosis of the protasis in v17.

agorasai (agorazw) aor. inf. "to buy" - The infinitive introduces a dependent statement of indirect speech expressing Jesus' counsel.

par (para) + gen. "from [me]" - Spacial / source, "from".

pepurwmenon (purow) perf. mid./pas. part. "[gold] refined [in the fire]" - [gold] having been burnt [from fire]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, "burnt gold." The participle is modified by the prepositional phrase ek puroV, "by fire", the preposition ek expressing means, "burnt by fire" = "refined" = "refined gold", or possibly "fire-tested gold", Berkeley. "A biblical idiom for purifying one's life by removing sin", Beale, cf., Job.23:10.

iJna + subj. "so [you can become rich]" - that [you may be rich]. As with the two hina clauses that follow, in may be final expressing purpose, but better hypothetical result, "so that", or probably even better, consecutive, "with the result that ...." Spiritual wealth is the intended meaning, "that you may become spiritually rich", TH; "so becoming spiritually rich."

kai "and [white cloths]" - and [to buy from me white garments]. Coordinative. The victorious wear white garments, most likely as a symbol of purity, purchased from Christ (free of charge for the asking!) in order to cover the shame of sin, just as clothing covers the shame of nakedness. The symbol of white clothing is used a number of times in Revelation, cf., 3:4-5, 4:4, 6:11, ..... White garments are also used in a victory parade, but certainly here purity seems to be the point of the image.

iJna + subj. "so that" - that [you may be clothed and the shame of the nakedness of you not be revealed]. As above; "so that... / with the result that"; "so hiding the shame of your sin."

thV gumnothtoV (hV htoV) gen. "[shameful] nakedness" - [shame] of nakedness. The genitive is adjectival, probably attributed, as NIV. Their shameful nakedness is most likely their accommodation to the Greco-World.

egcrisai (egcriw) aor. inf. "[and salve] to put on [your eyes]" - [and to buy from me a salve, ointment] to anoint = to rub on, put on [the eyes of you]. Here used to introduce a purpose clause, "in order to anoint [your eyes]."

iJna + sub. "so [you can see]" - that [you may see]. As above; "so that ... / with the result that ...."; "enabling you to see."


iii] Instruction, v19-20. Before calling for repentance, Christ makes the point that the harsh words in v15-18 are not words of judgment for damnation, but words of chastisement for salvation. So, Christ calls on the Laodicean believers to repent; "shake off your complacency and repent", Phillips. Christ is like a friend seeking the renewal of a broken relationship; he stands outside the friends home seeking to come in and share fellowship together. A repentant church is a church in fellowship with Christ.

o{souV ean + subj. "those whom" - The syntax is somewhat tricky. The quantitative relative pronoun o{souV, "as many as", followed by ean = an, + subj., gives the indefinite sense "whoever, whomsoever", or simply "those whom." Given that o{souV is accusative, the sentence must read "I rebuke and discipline those whom I love." The pronoun egw, "I", is emphatic by position and use and is used to emphasize Christ's part in the loving and disciplining, but technically it applies to "I rebuke", rather than "I love." The clause is conditional in form, 3rd. class, "whoever, as the case may be, I rebuke and discipline = chastise, then (they also) I love." Sometimes ean can give a temporal twist to a quantitative relative pronoun, "whenever" (= oJtan), but unlikely here. "I reprove and discipline all those I love."

filw (filew) pro. "I love" - The use of filew, "sensual love / passion" rather than agapaw, "spiritual love / compassion", is probably influenced by the allusion to Proverbs 3:12. None-the-less, in Revelation, and also from time to time in the NT, no distinction is made between the two Gk. words, eg., Jesus' fileiV for Lazarus.

oun "so" - therefore. Inferential, drawing a logical conclusion. Given that chastisement is not a sign of divine punishment to damnation, but rather an evidence of divine love, the church should turn from its sin and seek God's mercy, ie., "repent."

zhleue (zhleuw) "be earnest" - be zealous, eager, enthusiastic. As is so often the case in Revelation, we must fill in the dots, ie., John does not define the focus of the enthusiasm; the church fete? Unlikely! The best we can say is that the word is being used as the opposite of lukewarmness, but even when we come to lukewarmness, lukewarm about what? Commentators are not backward in making suggestions: "the Laodiceans are not where Christ wants them to be in terms of witnessing discipleship, they do not form a community of faith and apparently practice all the ritual expressions of that faith, evidently even the Lord's Supper ..... they do so without Christ's approval and presence. That is why Christ likens himself to someone standing outside their door and knocking", Blount. This is a reasonable example of filling in the dots and is nicely covered by the words "apparently" and "evidently"! The reader will note my own paltry attempts to fill in the dots, often without my favorite words "possibly", or "probably"!! Note how Phillips links the action of being zealous with repentance, "Shake off your complacency and repent."


See "Interpretation" above. It is unlikely that "we will share our meal together", Barclay, alludes to the Lord's Supper. It simply describes an act of fellowship, of friends joining around a table and sharing a meal together, such that Jesus is a guest, and not the host, so Aune.

epi + acc. "[I stand] at [the door and knock]" - [behold i have stood] at, by, beside [the door and knock]. John's favorite spacial preposition, usually with a genitive to express "on, upon", but here with the accusative to express "at, near"; "here I am, standing at the door knocking", Cassirer.

ean tiV + subj. "if anyone" - if a certain, as the case may be, [hears the voice of me and opens the door, (kai, variant) then i will come in to him and dine with him and he with me]. Introducing a 3rd., class conditional clause where the condition has the possibility of coming true. "Will come" proV, "to, toward", him = movement toward, and "dine" meta, "with", him = association, accompaniment.

thV fwnhV (h) gen. "[hears my] voice" - [hears] the voice [of me]. Genitive of direct object after the verb "to hear." The genitive personal pronoun mou, "my", is probably possessive, but possibly idiomatic / source, origin, "from me."


iv] Promise, v21-22: As in the other letters, the one who conquers, the one persevering, receives an eternal reward. Here the reward is to sit with Jesus on his throne and share in the exercise of divine authority, ruling over all powers and authorities. The thrust of this promise is eschatological, but the not yet is also now so there is a sense where believers exercise this authority in the present age. We are probably looking at the church's authority to proclaim the gospel and offer absolution, the forgiveness of sins, to break the bonds of those enslaved in darkness, but this authority may well extend to truth in general. The church does possess the divine manual for human existence, and the consequences of failing to follow its instructions are easily observed. Although this promise seems far too worthy for a church like Laodicea, it does remind us of the power of God's grace. Their labor may have only covered the final hour of the day, but none-the-less, a full day's pay is theirs. It is also worth nothing that the subject of reigning with Christ is prominent in chapter 4 to 22 and so this promise nicely prepares us for what follows.

oJ nikwn (nikaw) pres. part. "to the one who is victorious" - the one conquering, overcoming [I will give to sit with me on the throne ....... to him]. The participle serves as a substantive, pendent nominative / nominative absolute resumed by the pronoun autw/, "him", genitive of indirect object after the verb "to give", "the one conquering, I will give ........ to him" = "the one conquering, to him I will give ..." = "to the one conquering I will give ...."; "Everyone who wins the victory will sit with me on my throne", CEV. The construction is Semitic. The victory is won through perseverance.

kaqisai (kaqizw) aor, inf. "the right to sit" - to sit [with me]. The infinitive following the verb "to give" produces the meaning "to grant" and so serves to introduce a dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what Christ grants, namely, that the one who conquers will sit with Christ on his throne beside the Father, cf., 2:7.

met (meta) + gen. "with [me]" - Expressing association / accompaniment, "with, along with"; "taken my seat beside my Father", Phillips.

en "on [my throne]" - on [the throne of me]. Local, expressing space, "on".

wJV "just as" - like [i also overcame and sat with the father of me on the throne of him]. Here as a comparative. "Conquerers will sit alongside me at the head table, just as I, having conquered, took the place of honor at the side of my Father. That's my gift to the conquerers", Peterson.


oJ ecwn (ecw) pres. part. "whoever has [ears]" - the one having [ears let him hear what the spirit says to the churches]. See 2:7.


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