Laodicea was a city of comfort, known for its collections of classical Greek art and refined way of life. The city had a large Jewish population descended from those deported to the area by Antiochus the Great two centuries before Christ. It was a very wealthy city, perhaps the wealthiest city in the region, partly because of fact it was a financial, medical, and banking hub for the area. Even the Jews there were particularly wealthy: the Roman proconsul Flaccus reports Jewish merchants of Laodicea sending impressive amounts of gold back to Jerusalem for use in the Temple.
While a large portion of the Laodiceans' wealth came from financial sources, it also came from clothing manufacturing, a medical school that produced, among other things, a compound for the ears and a salve for the eyes. They also had sheep that grew rare black wool and people from various parts of the world would come to Laodicea to purchase it. Like most of the other cities in that area of Asia Minor, they had a very good road system because they were part of the Roman Empire. Laodicea was so wealthy that when the earthquake of 60 A.D. destroyed the city, they refused financial help from Rome and rebuilt the city from their own funds.
They did not have their own water supply, though. Because of this, all an invading army had to do was destroy the water supply line, and that crippled the city's ability to defend themselves. The water that was used by the city of Laodicea was carried in from the city of Denizli (which still exists today) by a five-mile aqueduct. By the time this water got to Laodicea, it was lukewarm. Since this water had such high calcium content, there were special vents along the pipeline so the calcium deposits could be removed.
The founding of the church in Laodicea may have been the result of Jewish believers who had traveled to Laodicea after being in Jerusalem for Pentecost. Two other possibilities given for the founding of this church involve "clues" in Paul's letters to Christians in the nearby town of Colossae, Epaphrus (see Col. 4:12) and Philemon. Others think Peter may have had some influence in its founding, given his familiar letters to Christians in that region.
Laodicea appears to have had everything (except good water), so what was the problem? They had grown self satisfied and blind to their situation, and this influenced the church in a negative way.
With this background concerning the city of Laodicea, Christ instructs John to write the following: "To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 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, 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. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 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. 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." He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches'" (Rev. 3:14-22).
Christ presents Himself as one who has complete authority when He calls Himself "The Amen" (in effect, "I have the final word"). He is telling the church that they need to get away from feeling like they are spiritually successful because of their wealth and other areas of successful ventures in the non-Christian arena.
Christ commendation for the church at Laodicea was not present. He had nothing good to say about this church, even though it had been a true church, founded by true Christians.
Christ's condemnation was simple; they were lukewarm. The Christians there knew exactly how serious this was, because Christ was comparing them to the lukewarm water that they had to drink. They knew how distasteful this water was to them, signifying how distasteful they were to Him. Like most of the citizens of Laodicea, the church was self-satisfied with what they had accomplished, but failed to realize how they were poor in spirit.
Christ's correction is to stop this false feeling of security. The Christians in Laodicea needed to repent and commit themselves to things that would benefit then spiritually. Something else the Christians had done was leave Christ out of their fellowship. He states, "Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me." Christ was at the door and wanted to have dinner them, but they had to open door. This phrase about Him knocking at the door is often used for evangelistic purposes, but in context He is trying to re-establish fellowship with the church at Laodicea. The final meal of the day was dinner, which in the Koine Greek was deipnon. It is dinner or supper that Christ is referring to in this letter. This meal was eaten at home and done in a lingering manner after a day's work. It is at this meal friends are invited to join a family for supper. Christ wanted the Christians to invite Him in for supper, but first they had to open the door and invite Him in.
Did they repent? We have few records of the church there, but it seems to have continued in some form or fashion until the city was sacked by the Turks and the Mongols in the 13th century. It was not rebuilt. The ruins are well preserved today, just down the road from Denizli, Turkey.
Ray P. Burriss is a marriage and family counselor and has served as a missionary in Puerto Rico.