Revelation 3:14 “To the messenger of the congregation in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says….”
As we can see in the last message of Jesus to the key congregations in Asia Minor, Jesus is being described in terms of something believable (Amen), but also loyal (faithful) and reliable (true witness). The very last reference to Jesus Christ being the beginning of the creation of God should be taken to refer to the Jewish concept of Logos that is present in a dominant way in John 1.
Let us briefly summarize the main points that are important for our discussion here.
It has long been mistakenly thought that the ideas expressed in John’s prologue are unique to Christianity. It was erroneously believed that this statement (John 1:1) constituted nothing less than a ground-breaking departure from Judaism. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it is not until verse 14 “and the Word became flesh,” that an innovative idea, though not contradictory to Judaism, was first introduced. The idea of the Word/Logos/Memra of God being the instrument of God in creating of the world was not at all new to Second Temple Judaism. For example, Philo, an Alexandrian Jew who was roughly contemporary with Jesus, but probably never met him, wrote: “…the most universal of all things is God; and in the second place the Word of God.” (Allegorical Interpretation, II, 86); “…the shadow of God is His Word, which He used like an instrument when He was making the world…” (Allegorical Interpretation, III, 96); “This same Word is continually a suppliant to the immortal God on behalf of the mortal race, which is exposed to affliction and misery; and is also the ambassador, sent by the Ruler of all, to the subject race… neither being uncreated as God, nor yet created as you, but being in the midst between these two extremities…” (“Who is the Heir of Divine Things,” 205-6). These are only a few example of this idea.
Jesus, as he addresses his followers in Laodicea, is identifying himself with the instrument of God at the creation of the world.
There are also some important things we should know about the city of Laodicea. It is highly likely that Jesus and the human author of the Book of Revelation were well aware of these.
There was more than one city with the name Laodicea in the Ancient world, but this Laodicea of Lycus, located in Asia Minor, was established in around 250 B.C.E by Antiochus of Syria, who named it after his wife Laodice. Because of its physical location, Laodicea was a very rich and important city in Asia Minor. The road from Ephesus to the east of Syria was the key road in Asia and Laodicea. In its path, there is an important detour through which a large portion of trade traffic passed. This fact effectively turned the city into an exclusive provider of goods and services. Laodicea originally was built as a fortress, even though it had one significant deficiency. All of its water supply had to come by underground aqueduct from springs located at least 3 kms away. This was not a good thing for a city besieged by its enemies. But in Roman times, the city prospered due to the long lasting peace established and preserved by the Roman Empire.
Several characteristics of the city of Laodicea can be seen through Jesus’ address to the congregation located there. First, it was a banking and financial center for Asia Minor. The wealth of the city can be seen in quotations from the Roman historian Tacitus: “One of the most famous cities of Asia, Laodicea, was in that same year overthrown by an earthquake and without any relief from us recovered itself by its own resources.” (Tacitus: Annals 14: 27) No wonder Laodicea could boast that it was rich and had amassed wealth and had need of nothing. Second, it was a center of the clothing industry. It mass produced inexpensive outer wool garments. Third, Laodicea was a medical center of the Ancient world. A famous medical school was located in Laodicea. The names of two of its most famous doctors appear on Laodicean coins. In particular this medical establishment was famous for producing special medication for ears and eyes. Last, but and not least, Laodicea boast a disproportionally large Jewish population. In 62 B.C. Flaccus, the governor of the province, became alarmed at the amount of currency the Jews were exporting in payment of the Temple tax that every male Jew paid. He imposed an embargo on the export of currency. There were at least 7,000 male Jews residing in the relatively small city. There can have been few areas where the Jews were wealthier and more influential.
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.
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