15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.
The city of Laodicea was located between the cities of Hierapolis and Colossae. Both of these cities were known for the pure waters that flowed through them. Hierapolis had a hot spring that was considered to be medicinal. Colossae was known for its cold, refreshing mountain springs. Laodicea, on the other hand, had a bad reputation when it came to water. It was renowned for its dirty, lukewarm water, which visitors almost immediately spat out after tasting. In light of this, we can see that both “hot” and “cold” were considered to be good, while the dirty lukewarm of Laodicea was of no benefit.
17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.
A careful reading of Jesus’ admonition reveals that this particular assembly had become focused on riches and wealth, with pride and spiritual complacency being the result. Jesus called this assembly of his followers to repentance and faith. They had sold out to this world and were so sure of themselves because they did not realize the true state of things. They were not rich; they were poor. They were not well-dressed, but naked. They were not self-sufficient, but they were truly needy. They thought they had access to one of the best health centers in the Roman Empire, but in reality, they were completely blind. They had invested their valuables in the wrong bank. What is important to realize is that this letter is really no different from the six letters to the other assemblies. The challenge for us is to see that the kind of wealth and comfort mentioned here could have only been achieved if their full participation in pagan Roman society is presumed. Jesus’ reproof is not to be taken as heartless, harsh treatment. It is precisely because these people had Christ’s redemptive love and commitment that they were challenged to repent and change their ways.
20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.
Israel’s King is willing to have real table fellowship with his followers. However, because he is holy, no compromise or contamination with defilement is allowed. This is clearly stated in the Israelite Scriptures. We read in Leviticus 18:24 “Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled.” The Nicolaitans of Pergamum and Ephesus – those who claimed “we-will-eat” (see the previous discussion on Nicolaitans as Hebraism in Revelation 2:6) – were willing to engage in unqualified and totally unrestricted fellowship with Roman paganism which was forbidden by the Jerusalem council in Acts 15.
Many Laodicean followers of the Jewish Christ also apparently fell prey to Nicolaitan teachings although they are not explicitly identified with them as were the others. Jesus, by calling them to repentance, offered them the greatest possible incentive – the personal right to table fellowship with Jesus Christ himself. Fellowship with Israel’s God must remain pure. Nothing has changed. The Holy is still holy.
21 He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
There is no doubt that the commitment to refrain from the defilement of the lifestyle prevalent in the Roman Empire was extremely difficult, especially, when non-Jews’ full joining the people of Israel following Jesus was severally discouraged, if not forbidden in the Roman Empire. We read in 1 Cor. 7:17: “Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches.” Gentile followers of the Jewish Christ were encouraged to join the Jewish coalition as sojourners with Israel; that is not as Jews, but as the Nations. In so doing, according to Paul, they would take part in establishing the Torah. Paul supported the declaration, made at the Jerusalem council, for both Jews and the Nations to worship the LORD God on equal footing. We read what Apostle Paul, the only Pharisee whose writings to the non-Jewish followers of Jesus survive, says about this in Romans 3:28-31:
“For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Torah. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. Do we then nullify the Torah through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Torah.”
This means that for gentile followers of Jesus there were not many options. They could either join Jewish people through proselyte conversion (which was forbidden) or they could conform to the rules and practices of pagan Rome which, although condemned, was nonetheless chosen by many. A third and the most difficult option was to learn how to live holy and righteous lives as the nations in the Roman world, while worshiping the same God as Jews but through Jesus – his anointed King. It was not easy. In fact, it was extraordinarily difficult. This is why the rewards offered are so incredibly great.