Are You Living in Laodicea?

by Tom Terry

Laodicea was a rich church as the community was a financial center in Asia Minor. Some scholars note that it was the financial capital of the region, with a wealthy banking system. When the city was destroyed in an earthquake in 60AD, the Laodiceans rebuilt the city at their own expense, without the help of Rome. Thus, the city was very affluent and self-sufficient. Sound familiar?

Some scholars believe that the book of Ephesians was a circular letter written to several churches, including Laodicea, though only references to Ephesians survive to today. Additionally, some Greek manuscripts of I Timothy end with the words: “Written at Laodicea, metropolis of Phrygia Pacatiana.” This may refer to copies written in Laodicea and sent out elsewhere.

“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.  “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.  For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so 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 eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’ ” (Revelation 3:14-22).



Jesus used things from his audience’s own location or culture to make his points. That is no less true with these contrasts. Notice the contrasts:

  • Wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked
  • Rich, white garments, clothe, salve that you may see

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot.”

Notice that Jesus ties in the church’s works with the phrase cold or hot. What does cold or hot have to do with works? The answer comes in what cold or hot represent. Cold water was used for planting and drinking. I.E., refreshment. Hot, like the mineral springs, was used medicinally. The hot waters came from six miles north in Hierapolis and the cold came from Colossae. One is evangelism, one is discipleship. Jesus wanted his people engaged in either hot or cold works. But apparently, Laodicea didn’t have either of these works. They were a self-sufficient church.


The waters from Hierapolis would gather into pools that by the time of arrival would become lukewarm. The lukewarm pools were known for making people sick.

“Spit you out of my mouth.”

Jesus’ reference here is kind of the nice way of saying what he means. This is literally a reference to vomit. The modern way of saying this is, “You make me sick.” When someone says this, they usually say this in anger or disgust. This is the emotion being conveyed in this passage. “You make me sick.”

This is not the picture of “Jesus meek and mild,” is it? We tend to think of the gentle Jesus, the loving Jesus, the compassionate Jesus. But we sometimes forget that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament. He is just as much wrathful and hating of sin as he is loving through his sacrifice. One New Testament scripture even tells us, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Thankfully, the hands that have embraced us were first nailed to the cross.

“Rich, Prospered, Need nothing.”

Occasionally, I visit a church that reminds me of Laodicea. They are a dynamic church, but since thousands attend, they spend that money on things like giant screens, smoke machines for worship, and other extravagant things for their worship service. I’m not criticizing the pastor, but these things don’t seem necessary to me for genuine worship. I even watched a service one day when one of the associate pastors said to the crowd, “Our church is the best church in the world.” He wasn’t kidding. Things like this make me think of this part of our passage: rich, prospered, needing nothing. But Jesus has something more to say about this.

“Wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

Here we see the contrast that Jesus is drawing from Laodicea’s culture to get their attention. Though the city was wealthy and had no physical need other than water. So too, this church felt equally secure in its wealth and self-sufficiency.

“Gold refined by fire.”

The smelter would fire gold and other precious metals to the point of becoming a fluid and the impurities would rise to the surface, called dross, and be scooped away, leaving only pure gold.

We should not miss the fact that when God does this in our lives it’s a process that hurts. Jesus wants us for pure use. It may even be said that God doesn’t really come into full use of us without first having us hurt deeply.


What are you looking for in your spiritual life?

Jesus uses the word, “Rich” here in a different way than the Laodiceans used it. Their riches of the world were spiritual poverty. Jesus wanted to give them true riches for eternal life. Genesis 15 says that God is, “…our great and exceeding reward.” In him are our riches. Not in things, even heavenly things.

“White garments.”

Whereas Laodicea was “Naked,” Jesus offered “White garments.” This is a contrast on three levels. First, they are spiritually naked, so they need clothing. Their sin needs to be covered over. Second, the use of “White” is also a contrast because the city was known for producing a fine, black wool. “White garments,” as we know from scripture, represent purity and holiness. 

“’The marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (Revelation 19:7-8).

Third, the priests of the temple in Ezekiel 44:17-19 were forbidden from wearing wool while serving God in the temple. Their garments had to be white linen.

“When they enter the gates of the inner court, they shall wear linen garments. They shall have nothing of wool on them, while they minister at the gates of the inner court, and within. They shall have linen turbans on their heads, and linen undergarments around their waists. They shall not bind themselves with anything that causes sweat. And when they go out into the outer court to the people, they shall put off the garments in which they have been ministering and lay them in the holy chambers. And they shall put on other garments.”

This is a picture of holiness and being set apart for the Lord’s service. But it also a type for you and I when we are clothed in righteousness we will never leave the temple. As the priests had to disrobe into normal cloths when they left the temple. But you and I will be clothed in holy garments forever, signifying that we will never leave God’s presence in the New Heaven and Earth.

“Shame of your nakedness.”

This reference goes back to Genesis 3. Remember that Adam and Eve sinned before God and tried to cover themselves with leaves. After finding them in hiding, the scripture says that God gave them clothes made of animal skin.

“And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21).

This indicates an animal sacrifice for the sin of Adam and Eve, and the skins represent the covering over of their sin by the sacrifice. This also looks ahead to the sacrifice of Jesus. So, don’t miss this correlation from Revelation 19:8, “To clothe herself in fine linen.” The coverings are no longer of animals because animal sacrifice was done away with because of the sacrifice of Jesus. Our symbol is not animal skins or black wool, but fine, white linen.

“Salve…so that you may see.”

Laodicea produced a salve that was said to have healing properties for eye conditions. Jesus uses this reference to show the church that they are blind and need his healing. Spiritual blindness occurs when we see our sufficiency and think we need nothing. In reality, we end up spiritually blind.

There is an interesting correlation here with Jesus’ discussions with the Pharisees in John 9:39-41. After healing a blind man, Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”

The same application is being made in today’s passage. Sometimes when we look at ourselves, we think we need nothing beyond where we are spiritually. Once, when teaching a men’s class I taught on spiritual growth. One of the members, a man who claimed Christ for many years, interrupted me and said, “Why do I have to learn this stuff. I prayed the prayer. I’m in!” Sadly, he didn’t’ see his own spiritual poverty. He didn’t think he needed to do anything to grow in Christ.

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline.”

Though this letter is harsh, the Laodicean’s should have taken comfort in Jesus’ declaration of love. This is similar to Hebrews 12:5-6,11, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives…For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

“If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” I think this is a terrifying thing. For Jesus to be outside the door is to be separated from him spiritually. The home is ours; we occupy it. Jesus is on the outside. Here’s the catch. When you open the door to Jesus, you surrender the ownership of your home to him. He is your Lord. He indwells you and retains all of the rights to your life, and he can do with you whatever he pleases.

Do you sometimes feel like you are in control of your life, or that you have not surrendered all to him?

“As I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

Just like above, when we go to the Father’s throne, we are entering his house. And he shares his throne with us. It does not put us in charge. But it demonstrates the great depth of his forgiveness and love that he would share his reign with us.

Consider also this great contrast in our passage. The Laodiceans go from being spit out of Jesus’ mouth to sitting on God’s throne in victory. No matter how bad we are, how disobedient we are, there is always hope for great reward from God when we repent of our sins and truly surrender our lives to him.


  1. If we look at ourselves and don’t see sin that needs repenting, then we are spiritually blind. 
  2. If we think that we have all that we need in life and don’t see a need for spiritual growth, then we are spiritually poor. 
  3. If we think that we have “arrived” and don’t need to know more to have a relationship with God, then we are spiritually naked.

Jesus wants to reverse our spiritual condition so that we become spiritually rich, dressed, and seeing. He wants us saved, spiritually growing, and spiritually active. If we are not under these three things, then our salvation is in question.

Many Christians see financial security as a sign that God is blessing us because he is pleased with our lives. Laodicea may have felt the same way. But financial blessing may not be a sign of God’s pleasure. It may be that we have a Prosperity Gospel attitude, that God wants to give us the best. In fact, one of the greatest blessings the scripture says we can receive is being granted the right to suffer for Jesus’ name. Did you catch that? GRANTED to suffer as if it is a blessing and a right.

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…” (Philippians 1:29).

Are you cold, hot, or lukewarm?


Let’s ask some questions of ourselves to figure out which category we belong in.

  1. Do I want others to come to know Christ so much that I’m willing to do something about it? I did not want to move to Mongolia. But when we learned that 98% of Mongolians had never heard the Gospel, we knew we had to go. We had to do something about it.
  2. Do I want to build up others in their faith so much that I’m willing to do something about it?
  3. Do I want a vigorous and active faith in Christ, always expressed in my speech and works? Or do I only pursue my Christianity at church on Sunday?

John’s big idea is not just so we can be rich, dressed, and see. It’s so that we can use those things to advance the kingdom of God. We become rich so that we can share our riches with others. We become dressed so that we can present the Gospel through our lives and words. And we become seeing so that we can recognize the opportunities around us so that we might share the Gospel and help others see Christ as well.

This is what Jesus wanted the Laodiceans to do, and he wants us to do it as well.

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