What was interesting about the lesson last week was that the message to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-21 was actually about hope and encouragement. I had always assumed it was about judgement, about coming down on them hard. Jesus does say that they were lukewarm and were poor and naked and too blind even to see it. But then He gives them a prescription, a series of three ideas in symbols that they would have understood: gold, white clothes, and eye salve. And it’s a prescription that’s still useful for us today.
Laodicea: The Surprising History
The reason those symbols were understandable to the Laodiceans is in the history of the city itself. It was destroyed in about 61 A.D. by an earthquake, and when Rome offered to help the Laodiceans rebuild, they refused. They rebuilt it themselves, saying they had plenty of wealth without Rome, thank you very much. And they actually were a center for gold coins, which they created there and sent out to other areas. They were bankers. So they used their own gold to rebuild.
Here’s the connection: in Revelation 3:17, Jesus mentions that the Laodiceans had said, “I am rich. I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” And that’s exactly what the Laodiceans had said to Rome!
Jesus says that they are in reality poor, and that He can offer them gold refined in the fire. We’ll get to what that means.
Like a Bank of America, a Macy’s and the Mayo Clinic Rolled into One
Now, Laodicea was also a fashion center. They had lots of black sheep they used to create a renowned black, glossy wool that was turned into popular garments. People remarked on how beautiful Laodicean women were in their black clothes. And of course these latest fashions were exported to many other parts of the known world.
But Jesus states that they are actually naked and counsels them to buy white clothes from Him to cover their shame — which is more interesting once you know they were famous for black wool.
Finally, Laodicea was known for its medical training school and especially for the famous Phrygian eye salve made there. People loved that stuff, and the Laodiceans exported it all over the known world.
Jesus stated, probably with a bit of irony, that these people who had invented a famous eye salve were actually blind — meaning they were blind to their own condition and blind to important spiritual things.
Treasures No One Can Take Away
Well, the gold, clothes and eye salve that He offers are spiritual symbols. The gold refers to a faith that has grown incredibly strong through many experiences with God, a faith that no one can take away no matter what you go through, something secure from all disasters, aging, rusting — anything.
The white clothes have to do with covering anything that you’re ashamed of and just receiving from Jesus, every day, His righteousness that frees you from ever trying to earn acceptance from God and frees you from the need to struggle with guilt.
And the eye salve refers to the Holy Spirit Who can bring such powerful truth and understanding to your mind that you can detect even very subtle falsehood that is designed to mess up your life. The Spirit shows you Jesus and His perfect life and reminds you of His words. The Spirit shows you amazing opportunities to have more experiences with God — more ways to use your talents — that will make you even stronger and more joyful.
Putting Hopes and Dreams on Jesus’ Path
So Jesus offered them a mental technology — that’s how I think of it — that they could follow and that we can follow. The gold, the white clothes, and the eye salve are really a plan for life, a path. Receiving righteousness by faith every day from Jesus, walking by the Spirit, learning and experiencing and remembering more truth and wisdom that the world has ever known, and growing in a faith that will eventually be so strong that nothing can shake your confidence and security — this plan for life is very, very encouraging. What a surprise and what a difference from the judgmental ideas I usually have when reading this passage.
Now, no matter what else I do in my life, I want my accomplishments to be on this path that Jesus has laid out.
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)