Rich Laodicea City
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22. Rich Laodicea City
Revelation 3.17-22

"You say, 'I am rich, I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich, and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness, and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. To the victorious one, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Revelation 3.17-22)

Wretched Pitiful Poor

Laodicea ViewLaodicea City was built on the river Lycus and benefitted from its position on an important trade route. The city and the church were described as affluent and "wealthy." They were also free of persecution like Sardis. But what the Laodiceans could buy had become more valuable to them than what was unseen and eternal, their spiritual assets. They said, "I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing" but Jesus responded to them in this Revelation passage, "but you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked?" This offended the Laodiceans who boasted of their wealth, their thriving healing eye ointment treatments and their rich clothing.

Acquired Wealth

Gold CoinsLaodicea was also known for its "gold" coins which the Romans permitted them to produce. However, Christ told the Laodiceans to get their spiritual treasures from him. Gold refined in a fire was a vivid reference to God's grace. The process of refining gold involved mining the ore, breaking it into small parts and heating it intensely until the dross separate off from the real gold. Laodicea was going to receive the same harsh treatment at the hand of God until only the pure gold was left. The city was so proud of its cloth and dyeing industries, but Christ told them to purchase white, pure, spotless, pristine clothes from him, symbolic of his righteousness. The Laodicean black sheep produced beautiful black woolen fabric but only the clean white clothing of the pure in heart would satisfy God. The Laodiceans were to exchange the glossy black wool for the fine white linen clothes of the pure in heart.

Eye Salve

EyeDespite being famous for its Revelation eyes ointment and purple woolen clothing Laodicea was still accused of its shameful nakedness. "White clothes" were a symbol of an upright life but the city of Laodicea was noted for its violet and purple woolen cloth. It may have been well clothed but it was still spiritually naked. They were told to wear white clothes to cover their "shameful nakedness." It also had the "Ointment to put on your eyes, so you can see" or eye-salve made from crushed Phrygian stone and this was the pride of Laodicea's Medical Center. Its precious "ointment" may have healed many eye problems, but Christ tells them they need spiritual medicine from him to receive spiritual healing so they could see the truth and remove their spiritual blindness. Then, as if to explain why Jesus is chastising them he says, "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent."

Laodicea Medical Center

The Laodicea medical center is famous in the ancient Roman world for its eye salve (or ointment) and ear treatments which are dispatched all over the known world. The Laodicea medical center is of considerable size as attested by the massive columns from c100 BC recently discovered in the city's northern district. The medical center on this bustling trade route brought in so many visitors seeking healing using its famous eye salve that it made the city very wealthy. So famous were its doctors that the names of some even appear on Laodicean coins. We know of two doctors by name from these coins. One is called Zeuxis who could be an ophthalmologist or eye specialist dealing with diseases and other eye problems. Another doctor, Alexander Philalethes, is inscribed on a second coin.

Little Bread Roll

Modern Eye Salve or CollyriumThe Laodicean medical center and school are famous for the eye salve also called "collyrium" meaning "course bread roll" that they produced. This is a reference to the medicated eye salve in a little roll. These contain crushed Phrygian stone, a light, spongy stone resembling pumice, used by the ancients in the dyeing process. "Spice nard" or "spikenard" is an amber-colored essential oil derived from a flowering plant that grows in the Himalayas of Nepal, China, and India. It was also dispensed as an ear treatment. The oil has been used over the centuries as a perfume, a traditional medicine, and in religious ceremonies across a wide geographical area from India to Europe. In ancient times, salve was believed to draw out what they called "evil humors" which caused visual impairment or hearing loss. These famous powder rolls were exported from Laodicea all over the known Roman world. The Laodicean Church was so proud of the city's medical skills in the care of people's eyes and ears that it did not realize that it was spiritually blind and deaf. In Revelation 3.17 the Lord says, "You say, 'I am rich, I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked." Note that even though they marketed "eye salve and ear treatments" they were still "blind and naked." The Lord, therefore, says to the Laodiceans, "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline."

Jesus Door Knocking

Jesus Knocking at Your Heart's DoorWe find Jesus door knocking at the entrance to the Church of Laodicea in Revelation and symbolically at our heart's door when he calls to us. In an attempt to illustrate this famous verse from Revelation 3.20, "I stand at the door and knock," the artist William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) produced his famous painting "The Light of the World." Holman Hunt was an English artist who co-founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in London in 1848 with John Everett Millais (1829-1896) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) in his day. The Brotherhood sought a return to the abundant detail, intense colors and complex compositions of Italian art. Hunt believed the world itself should be read as a system of visual signs and therefore incorporated these signs into his paintings. In this painting, the artist is attempting to show that Jesus is knocking at our heart's door and appealing to the very center of our being. The American theatre and film critic Paul Kuritz points out, "Hunt painted the entire life-sized painting out of doors, whenever the moon was full, from nine o'clock in the evening until five o'clock the next morning." Hunt is stressing here how much Jesus wants to share fellowship and friendship with us. He wants us to open up our lives, our minds and our emotions to him. He is patient and persistent in trying to get through to us, not breaking, but knocking gently on our heart's door.

Heart's Door

Listening EarJesus in his graciousness allows us to decide whether or not to respond to him. We may note here that in the painting, the handle of the door is curiously not shown on Jesus' side but the other side of the door. The question is, "Do you hear Jesus knocking on your heart's door?" Will you open the handle on your side of your heart to him? At the end of each letter to these seven Asian churches in Revelation including this one to Laodicea, Christian believers are urged to listen and take to heart what is written to them. Although a different message is addressed to each church, all the messages contain warnings and guidance to the people in that generation which apply equally to us today.

"Rich Laodicea City"
by Ron Meacock © 2019

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