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14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
Laodicea was the wealthiest city in its area. “The beginning of the creation” can also be translated as “the ruler of the creation.”
15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
“Spue” means “spit.” (I guess because of Wayne’s World everyone knows that.)
Laodicea was located near hot springs–but not close enough. By the time the water reached the city, it was lukewarm, which (they believed) destroyed its medicinal value. But, as hot springs, the water was too nasty to drink (full of alum). So the lukewarm water was useless. If it has been really hot, it would have had medicinal use; if cold, it would have been drinkable. But it was neither. This verse is sometimes (mis)interpreted to read, “it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you are strongly committed to it” but it rather means something like “there are two types of usefulness, be one or the other, but be useful and don’t try to combine to the point of not doing anything useful.” It is a good reminder to people who, oh I don’t know, try to write blog posts while watching the Olympics and pretending to listen to their seven-year-old’s latest conspiracy theory at the same time.
17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
This verse seems to allude to Hosea 12:8, and, as is almost always the case with OT allusions in Revelation, it is politically charged; the next verse reads, “and I that am the Lord thy God from the land of Egypt will yet make thee to dwell in tabernacles, as in the days of the solemn feast” and thus reminds the audience that those who follow the Lord will be set free from political oppression.
“Miserable” can be translated as “pitiful.”
18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
“Tried” means “refined.” The reference to white raiment (=clothing) is a delicious bit of local color because Laodicea was famed for its black wool; this verse would have been a potent reminder to them that, despite their wealth, they needed something that they could not provide, but the Lord could.
Laodicea was also famed for its medical school and noted for exporting eye salve, so the image of anointing the eyes would have really resonated for them and been a very strong rebuke.
19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
“Zealous” means “earnest.”
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.
This verse alludes to Songs 5:2, where the “beloved” knocks and seeks entrance. By putting himself into that role, Christ evokes the wedding covenant imagery. A similar image is found in Luke 12:36. More importantly, however, is that this image suggests that Jesus is outside of the Laodicean church knocking–which means that they have excommunicated him. Ouch.
21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
This verse echoes Matthew 19:28, but extends the promise to all people, not just the twelve.
22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
I think all of the local color is really important–not only because it makes otherwise puzzling verses make sense but because it makes clear that Jesus knew these people, knew what was important to them, and spoke to them in terms that would be particularly meaningful to them.
The image of Jesus patiently standing outside of a church from which he has been figuratively excommunicated and knocking to come in is incredibly powerful–not only does it indict the Laodicean church, but it speaks of Jesus’ incredible patience with us–despite the insults we have heaped upon him–as he waits for us to be ready to turn to him.