Commentary on Revelation (covers all chapters from 1 thru 22, including Introduction)
Copyright © 2019 by Steve Sewell, Theology First. All Rights Reserved
All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version, unless noted otherwise.
(See Colossians 2:1; 4:13-16)
City of Laodicea: Eskihisar, Denizli Province, Turkey
Laodicea on the Lycus (Greek: Λαοδίκεια πρὸς τοῦ Λύκου; Latin: Laodicea ad Lycum, also transliterated as Laodiceia or Laodikeia) (modern Turkish: Laodikeia) was a magnificent ancient city built on the river Lycus (Çürüksu). It was located in the Hellenistic regions of Caria and Lydia, which later became the Roman Province of Phrygia Pacatiana. It is now situated near the modern city of Denizli.
Laodicea was situated in the southern part of Phrygia, near the junction of the small rivers Asopus and Carpus, on a plain washed at its edges by each. It was about 40 miles from Ephesus, and not far from Colosse and Hierapolis. In the time of Strabo it was a large city; but the frequency of earthquakes, to which this district has been always liable, demolished, long since, a large part of the city, and destroyed many of the inhabitants, and the place was abandoned, and now lies in ruins. It is now a deserted place, called by the Turks Eski-hissar, or Old Castle.
From its ruins, ‹which are numerous, consisting of the remains of temples, theaters, etc., it seems to have been situated on six or seven hills, taking up a large space of ground. The whole rising ground on which the city stood is one vast tumulus of ruins, abandoned entirely to the owl and the fox. Col. Leake says, “There are few ancient sites more likely than Laodicea to preserve many curious remains of antiquity beneath the surface of the soil; its opulence, and the earthquakes to which it was subject, rendering it probable that valuable works of art were there buried beneath the ruins of the public and private edifices.”
The neighboring village contains some 50 or 60 people, among whom, on a visit of a recent traveler there, there were only two nominal Christians (circa the mid-19th century). “The name of Christianity,” says Emerson (p. 101), “is forgotten, and the only sounds that disturb the silence of its desertion are the tones of the Muezzin, whose voice from the distant village (Eski-hissar) proclaims the ascendency of Muhammed. Laodicea is even more solitary than Ephesus; for the latter has the prospect of the rolling sea or of a whitening sail to enliven its decay; while the former sits in widowed loneliness, its walls are grass-grown, its temples desolate, its very name has perished.”
A thunderstorm gathered on the mountains at a distance while this traveler was examining the ruins of Laodicea. He returned to Eski-hissar, and waited until the fury of the storm had abated, but set off on his journey again before it had entirely ceased to blow and to rain. “We preferred,” says he, “hastening on, to a further delay in that melancholy spot, where everything whispered desolation, and where the very wind that swept impetuously through the valley sounded like the fiendish laugh of time exulting over the destruction of man and his proudest monuments.” See Prof. Stuart, vol. ii. pp. 44,45; Kitto‘s Encyclopedia; “Smith‘s Journey to the Seven Churches,” 1671; Leake, Arundell, Hartley, MacFarlane, Pococke, etc. The engraving in this vol. will furnish a representation of the ruins of Laodicea.
Coffman Commentaries on the Bible:
Laodicea is a word which has come to stand for lukewarmness, indifference and compromise. Some theorists make a big point out of what they affirm to be the meaning of the word: “Its name designates it as the Church of mob rule, the democratic church, in which everything was swayed and decided by popular opinion.” We are reluctant to accept this, because the town was actually named by its founder Antiochus II (261-246 B.C.) after his wife Laodice. It was situated in the same general vicinity of the other six cities addressed in this series, on the great Roman road to Syrian Antioch. It was never much of a fortress, due to the vulnerability of the water supply, ” which came principally by a vulnerable aqueduct from springs six miles away to the north in the direction of Hieropolis … Laodicea could hardly stand a determined siege.”
Laodicea was a banking center with a great deal of wealth. One of the great industries was that of wool and woolen garments, featuring a fine quality glossy black wool from Phrygian sheep; another industry was that of drugs developed in connection with the medical school there. One of the famous Laodicean remedies was a “Phrygian eye-salve” which was supposed to cure inflammation. Blaiklock speculated that this probably came from dried mud from one of the numerous hot springs in the area. This information illuminates the charges which the Lord made against the church of this city, in his words, “Thou art miserable and poor, and blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). It is as though he had said, “You are spiritually bankrupt in spite of all the banks, looms and pharmacies in the city.”
Particularly noticeable was the wealth of Laodicea. Following the great earthquake which demolished the place in 60 A.D., they rebuilt at once from their own resources, declining the lavish gifts offered by the emperor. Scholars who suppose that Laodicea could not have recovered so quickly as a date in the late 60’s for Revelation would indicate that they have failed to take their great wealth and self-sufficiency into account.
One other significant fact of the environment is that of the hot springs, which when mixed with water from the colder springs resulted in a lukewarm, nauseous mixture totally unsuitable for drinking purposes.
Laodicea suffered the same kind of general decline that came to the whole area in subsequent centuries, finally falling to the Turks in the 14th century. Today, it is called Eski-Sheher, meaning “old town,” the capital of the Turkish province of the same name. The population in 1955 was 122,755.
The church at Laodicea was one of a group of three congregations known to us from the writings of Paul. He directed that two of his epistles should be sent there (Colossians 4:16). “These were the Colossian letter and another which has been lost, unless the epistle to the Ephesians is meant.” This church received, along with Sardis, the strongest of our Lord’s denunciations, there being no compliment of any kind extended to them.
- They are lukewarm
- They are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, naked
- Buy from Jesus gold, white garments, and eye salve
- Be zealous and repent
- Jesus reproves and chastens those whom He loves
- He will spew them out of His mouth
- If any opens the door to Jesus, He will come into them
- Whoever overcomes will sit down with Jesus on His throne
Revelation 3:14-22 – [Laodicea]
(Rev 3:14) – 14 And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God:
“to the angel”
(See commentary Rev 1:20 and Rev 2:1 – Ephesus)
Trustworthy, firm, true, truly, certain, faithfulness, surely.
Means closely the same thing as the next phrase:
“the faithful and true witness”
By Jesus opening up this address with this statement about Himself, He may have been alluding to the fact that they were not a “faithful and true witness.” Thus it served as a rebuke to this church.
Being the “Amen, the true and faithful witness,” the Laodiceans could be certain that what He is about to say to them is the truth and will be fulfilled. In the broader scope of Revelation, we can be certain that what He reveals in this book will surely come to pass. As the Son of God, He knows all. He knows the truth. He is the all-knowing witness to the truth. He is Himself the truth (John 14:6). Thus whatever he says, we can be certain of its trustworthiness. His “Amen” is His agreement to the truth.
As followers of Christ, we too are to be faithful witnesses to the truth. We need to be faithful to present Christ and His Word accurately to a world that needs Him. Accordingly, we need to be not only diligent students of God’s Word, but to be diligent in living it out in our lives for His glory.
“the beginning of the creation of God”
To begin with, this does not refer to the creation of God Himself! He has no beginning. He has always existed, and always will. It also doesn’t refer to the creation of Christ, who is Himself God, the Second Person of the Trinity.
So what does this unusual statement mean? I believe Jesus is talking about God’s creation of all things, namely the universe and everything in it. He refers to Himself as the beginning of all that. In other words, all creation has its beginning with Him as Creator God, that He is the source of it (Col 1:15-19).
(Rev 3:15-16) – 15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16 So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of my mouth.
“I know thy works”
Jesus knew their works, and none them were good. Jesus has nothing positive to say about this church. The works they had, did not match what they professed, assuming they professed Christ at all. The works we do and the kind of life we live, reveal whether our faith is genuine or not. Those who are truly saved, will be characterized by faithfulness. The people in this church were not faithful. This is a church that had a true Christian beginning (Col 2:1; 4:13-16), but eventually slipped away into complete apostasy.
ASV — “I would thou wert cold or hot”
NET — “I wish you were either cold or hot!”
Bible commentators commonly believe that Jesus had the lukewarm water supply of the city in mind in this passage. It was neither cold nor hot. It was also believed to contain minerals that made the water taste terrible, perhaps making them sick.
This was a church that was neither cold nor hot regarding their spirituality. They were “lukewarm.” Jesus hated their lukewarmness, and because of that He said that He would “spew them out of His mouth.” That statement, that description, could never be used to describe those who are in Christ. I disagree with those who believe the people in this church were saved, but living worldly lives. No, they were a church who had a good beginning, but had descended into apostasy, where there were no more true believers left.
Why would Jesus prefer that they be either “cold” or “hot?” Why would being cold spiritually be better than being lukewarm? We can understand why He would want His people to be on fire for Him, but to be cold? Why? Because those who are lukewarm for Christ, are Christians in name only. They profess Christ as their Savior, but they don’t follow Him as Lord and King of their lives. They may go to church and make a verbal profession, but there is a lack of genuine faith and conviction about Christ, a lack of sincere commitment to following the ways of Christ. These would be false believers, those who are deceived about their salvation. They’ve gotten into a comfortable lifestyle of believing in Christ with their mind, but living a self-willed, worldly lifestyle with their heart. They’ve fallen into the trap of “easy-believism” that is so commonly taught from pulpits today. It’s a gospel message that says, “believe in Jesus as Savior, but don’t worry about following Him as Lord of your life right now. That may come later.” They may not word it quite like that, but that is the implication of their message.
Those who teach that type of gospel, believe that a person may follow Jesus as Lord someday, or maybe not. In their belief system, it doesn’t matter. In their view, as long as someone receives Christ as Savior, as long as they through the “door of salvation,” it doesn’t matter how they live their lives after that. They separate Christ the Savior from Christ the Lord, believing and teaching that the Lordship of Christ has nothing to do with one’s salvation. That’s a lie! That’s not what the Bible teaches. It was Christ the Lord who died on the cross for our sins, who became our Savior. Jesus doesn’t separate Himself as many try to do. When one receives Christ as Savior, it must be in recognition of His authority and with a sincere surrender to that authority. When a person comes to faith in Christ, it’s with the understanding that they’re choosing to follow a new Master, a new way of life, that they’re choosing to live as a follower of Christ. Furthermore, true saving faith is an enduring faith, one that endures throughout our lives — which is revealed to be genuine through a life that is sincerely devoted to Jesus and His ways.
The people in the church of Laodicea had a good beginning in Christ, but gradually fell away from following Him. As they began to slide in their teaching, over time, the true believers left — one by one. They became Christians in name only. They were at that point, likely deceiving themselves into thinking they were saved. But their trust in Christ was replaced by their trust in riches. It was the wealth of the world that became their god. They had come to believe that they could have both, professing Christ as Savior while enjoying the pleasures of the world. That’s why Jesus didn’t want them lukewarm. Not only were they deceiving themselves – giving them a false sense of security – but they were also not accurately representing the One they professed to believe in.
People in this lukewarm state, are not true representatives of Christ. Instead, they’re a bad testimony. They don’t represent Him as true followers of Christ. They present a false picture of someone who knows Jesus and walks with Jesus. The world looks at the lives of people such as these Laodiceans, who profess to be Christians, and they think that’s what a follower of Christ is. Jesus does not want people representing Him like that. He doesn’t want people professing to know Him, and then live in a manner that dishonors His name.
Accordingly, Jesus would rather a person be “cold,” because then they wouldn’t be identifying themselves with Him, while living a life that dishonors Him. They do damage to the cause of Christ by professing one thing but living another. They don’t fulfill the purpose to which we’ve been called as true believers. Jesus doesn’t want people presenting a false picture of the life we have in Him.
On the other hand, those who are “hot,” not only profess Christ, but live a life that is genuinely Christian as those who honor Christ in all that they say and do. They present an accurate picture of someone who knows Him and walks with Him. They are like the one whom Jesus named by name: “Antipas My witness, My faithful one” (Rev 2:13). These are the ones who fulfill the purposes of Christ and advance His Kingdom in the world.
Therefore, when Jesus says of those who are “lukewarm,” that He will “spew them out of His mouth,” we can properly understand Him to mean that they make Him sick, in a manner of speaking. This is a picture of the bad water in this city, or like the bad water Elisha healed (2 Kings 2:19-22), or of food poisoning. When we drink bad water or eat bad food, it can make us vomit. It’s not compatible with our body. Thus we see that these Laodiceans were unhealthy spiritually, and it made Jesus sick. The life they lived was not compatible with the Christ they professed.
When Jesus said that He would “spew them out of His mouth,” it likely also meant that judgment was coming to them unless they repented.
(Rev 3:17) – 17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked:
The church in Laodicea was a rich church. So what they said about their financial status was true. However, Jesus informed them that what they viewed as wealth, had no value at all as it related to their spiritual condition. Their trust in Christ had been replaced by trust in riches. Jesus uses very descriptive language in describing where they were spiritually. Note the words He used: wretched, miserable, poor, blind, naked. These are not terms that describe true believers, especially the last three: poor, blind and naked. Note how Jesus Himself defines these terms in the next verse:
(Rev 3:18) – 18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich; and white garments, that thou mayest clothe thyself, and that the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest; and eyesalve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see.
Poor: “buy of me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich”
Jesus is referring to the “gold” of salvation, for He says that those who buy it from Him will “become rich.” He could only be talking about spiritual riches that are obtained through faith Him, not of the temporary material sort like they were trusting in, but of the kind that lasts forever.
In regard to being “refined by fire,” just as fire purifies gold of all the dross, so are we purified in Christ. The dross of sin is removed and we are presented unto God as spiritually pure in His Son. Thus Jesus is talking about true salvation, which the Laodiceans did not have. They gave it up. They walked away from the faith. They gave up spiritual riches for material riches.
There is a question about His use of the word “buy,” because salvation isn’t bought (worked for), it’s a gift that is freely received by faith (Ro 6:23; Eph 2:8-9). Jesus likely had Isaiah 55:1 in mind, and saying that salvation is bought with nothing, that it is indeed, a free gift that can’t be bought.
(Isaiah 55:1) – “Hey! Come, everyone who thirsts, to the waters! Come, he who has no money, buy, and eat! Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. (WEB)
So then, what Jesus is really telling them is to put true faith in Him. However, true faith is revealed by faithfulness. Therefore, the true life of faith is a life of sacrifice, which would equate to “buying.” There is indeed a price to pay for being a follower of Christ in the world. The image of gold being refined by fire is one of proving. In other words, it’s a picture of salvation being proved to be genuine. The fire of life reveals of what sort our faith is. Just as the dross is removed and the gold is clearly revealed, so is our salvation revealed by the life we live. True faith is proved or revealed through a life that is committed to following the ways of the One we profess to believe in. The removal of our old life reveals the spiritual gold of our new life in Christ.
Blind: “eyesalve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see”
This can only refer to salvation. The people of Laodicea were spiritually blind. We are blind to spiritual truth until the Holy Spirit reveals it to us (2 Cor 4:4; 1 Jn 2:11; 1 Cor 2:12-14; Acts 26:18). Though their eyes were at one time opened to the truth (as a church of believers), they had become blinded by the darkness of sin. And of course, this never happens overnight, it’s a gradual process as false teaching develops and true Christians leave over time.
They needed the “eyesalve” of truth to reopen their eyes. False teaching was allowed to develop in their assembly, just as Paul was fearful of (Col 2:1-8). It had a devastating effect. The influence of false teaching and the influence of their material riches, led the whole assembly into darkness. The leaders of this church allowed false teaching to enter their assembly, and never did anything about it. It escalated from there. They were not faithful shepherds. Irresponsible leaders who don’t protect their (the Lord’s) flock, will surely give an account.
Again, to make the argument that they were true Christians at this point in time, but simply out of fellowship with the Lord, is very weak. It doesn’t take in the whole picture that is given to us here. True faith in Christ will always produce the fruit of salvation. Faithfulness follows true faith. If someone professes Christ and appears to be living a Christian life at one time, but eventually falls back into a lifestyle of self-seeking sin – and stays there – then we can come to no other conclusion, but that they were not saved to begin with.
Naked: “white garments, that thou mayest clothe thyself, and that the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest”
Jesus said that they needed “white garments” to clothe their nakedness, the “shame of their nakedness.” We clothe our bodies against indecent exposure, to present our bodies to others in a decent manner. It’s shameful to do otherwise. The shame of their spiritual nakedness was exposed to the Lord. They may have fooled some Christians, but they didn’t fool Jesus. He knew the truth about them. They needed the “white garments” of salvation to cover them up. That these white garments refer to salvation is made abundantly clear in several places in this book (Rev 3:5; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9,13,14; 19:6-8,14). If they were true believers, they would not need these garments of salvation.
Were there any true followers of Christ left in this church? We can’t say for sure, but in light of the fact that Jesus mentions the few believers that were left in Sardis (Rev 3:4) and doesn’t mention any here, it seems unlikely.
(Rev 3:19) – 19 As many as I love, I reprove and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
Contrary to what some believe, Jesus loves every individual that comes into the world. It’s an inherent attribute for Him to love, for He is love (1 Jn 4:8). He also “reproves” and “chastens” (disciplines) whom He loves. Now, for sure, we normally view the reproving and chastening of the Lord as applying to believers (He 12:3-14). But we need to understand that Jesus is addressing a church that has genuine Christian roots. He’s addressing a church that began with an assembly of true followers of Christ, who gradually and eventually abandoned true faith. So it seems clear that He is viewing them as a child gone astray, and they truly were. We thus see the Lord reproving them in this address. In what form the “chastening” of this church came, we have no way of knowing.
This was an assembly that needed church-wide revival, beginning with its leaders — for as the leaders go, so go the people.
(Rev 3:20) – 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
Many claim that this is an invitation to believers, rather than unbelievers, and therefore, insist that it shouldn’t be used as part of the gospel message to the unsaved. But as we’ve seen, I think Jesus clearly identified whom He was addressing, and that was the unsaved. Therefore, it’s perfectly proper to show this invitation of Christ to someone we’re sharing the gospel message with.
While it’s true that Jesus may be directly referring to the “door” of this church (in the collective sense), I believe He was using it symbolically to refer to the door of their hearts. Merely opening a church door doesn’t get anyone saved. Opening the door of one’s heart, does, for it’s in the heart where salvation occurs.
When the Holy Spirit opens one’s spiritual eyes and spiritual ears as the message of Christ is being presented, that is the “knock” and “voice” of Jesus calling them to salvation. When a person opens the door to Him, He will fulfill His word to “come in to him,” where they will, together, enjoy wonderful fellowship (“will sup with him, and he with me”).
(Rev 3:21) – 21 He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne.
The one who “overcomes” in the context of this church, means that he or she who overcomes their unbelief and turns to Christ in faith, are given a wonderful promise:
“I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne”
Jesus reigns upon His throne now. His kingdom is now:
“as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne”
The Kingdom of Christ is a spiritual kingdom, not an earthly kingdom, as many teach. He reigns from His throne in Heaven over and through His Church (Kingdom). At conversion we’re transferred out of the realm of darkness, and into the Kingdom of Christ (Col 1:13).
We do not literally sit upon thrones – as Jesus apparently does – but we reign with Christ as those who have the truth, who represent the true God, the true Savior of the world. In Christ, we rule over the darkness and false religions of the world. We reign with Christ now (Eph 2:5-6; Rev 5:9-10).
The Kingdom of Christ is both now and will be ultimately fulfilled in the Eternal Kingdom, where Jesus will co-rule with His Father (Rev 22:1-5). Christ’s kingdom is not the earthly type that Premillennialism teaches. It’s a spiritual kingdom that we are a part of now.
Coffman Commentaries on the Bible:
To sit down with me in my throne … “This promise of sharing the throne is the climax of an ascending series of glorious promises which carry us from the Garden of Eden to the throne of God in heaven.”
Many do not seem to believe that Christians are now sharing the throne with Christ, but in a sense they are; despite the fact of this interpretation being merely the type of the glory that shall come later at the Second Advent (which is also in view here). Howard stated it thus: “Christians reign with Christ as his agents in proclaiming Christ’s authority for man’s salvation.” Hinds’ great summary of the thought here is:
As Christians are agents through whom men are saved (1 Timothy 4:16), so they are agents through whom Christ reigns. Hence, they sit with him in his throne, that is, rule with him. It is called the Father’s throne because he gave it to Christ; it is Christ’s because he sits upon it; it is the throne of David, because Christ, a Davidic descendant, sits upon it. Moreover, only one throne is supreme, that “of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1).
Those who “overcome” their unbelief, will reign with Christ both now and throughout eternity. That doesn’t mean that we have His authority, for there is no authority but His alone as the Ruler of the universe. It simply means that as those who belong to Christ, we are representatives of His authority. We are His ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20), ambassadors of light to a dark world that needs Him. We reign with Christ as those who have been sent into the world to represent Him and to advance His kingdom.
(For more about this spiritual kingdom that we share with Christ, see commentary on Revelation 1:4-6)
(Rev 3:22) – 22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.
(See commentary on Revelation 2:7 – Ephesus)