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 that you can become rich, and white clothes to wear so that you can cover your shameful nakedness, and salve to put on your eyes so that 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, built on the river Lycus, benefits from its position on an important trade route. The city and the church are affluent and "wealthy." They are also free of persecution like Sardis. But what the Laodiceans could buy becomes more valuable to them than what is unseen and eternal, their spiritual assets. They say, "I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing," but Jesus responds to them in this Revelation passage, "but you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked?" Laodiceans, who boast of their wealth, rely on their successful healing eye ointment treatments and valuable clothing trade.

Acquired Wealth

Gold CoinsLaodicea is also known for its "gold" coins, which the Romans permit them to produce. However, Christ tells the Laodiceans to get their spiritual treasures from him. Gold refined in a fire is a glowing reference to God's grace. Refining gold involves mining the ore, crushing, and heating it intensely until the dross separates from the real gold. Laodicea will receive the same harsh treatment at God's hand until only the pure gold is left. The city is so proud of its cloth and dyeing industries, but Christ tells them to purchase white, spotless, clean clothes from him, symbolic of his righteousness. The Laodicean black sheep produce beautiful black woolen fabric, but only the clean white clothing of the pure in heart will satisfy God. The Laodiceans are to exchange the glossy black wool for the beautiful white linen clothes of the pure in heart.

Eye Salve

EyeDespite being famous for its eye ointment and purple woolen clothing, God accused Laodicea of its shameful nakedness. "White clothes" symbolize a holy life, but rich Laodicea city produced violet and purple woolen cloth. It may be well clothed, but it is still spiritually naked. Wearing white clothes would cover their "shameful nakedness." It also has "Ointment to put on your eyes so that you can see" or eye-salve made from crushed Phrygian stone, and this is the pride of Laodicea's Medical Center. Its precious "ointment" may heal many eye problems, but Christ tells them they need spiritual medicine to receive healing to 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." The Laodicea medical center was famous in the ancient Roman world for its eye salve (or ointment) and ear treatments, dispatched all over the known world. The Laodicea medical center was of considerable size as attested by the massive columns from c100 BC discovered in the city's northern district. The medical center on this bustling trade route brings many visitors seeking healing using its famous eye salve to make the city very wealthy. So renowned are 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, 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, called "collyrium," meaning "course bread roll." "Bread Roll" is a reference to the medicated eye salve in a little roll. These contain crushed Phrygian stone, a light, porous 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. Salve is an effective ear treatment. The oil serves as a perfume, a traditional medicine, and used in religious ceremonies across a wide geographical area from India to Europe. In ancient times, people believed salve drew out what they called "evil humors," which caused visual impairment or hearing loss. These famous powder rolls travel from Laodicea all over the known Roman world. The Laodicean Church is so proud of the city's medical skills in the care of people's eyes and ears that it does not realize that it is spiritually blind and deaf. In Revelation 3.17, the Lord comments, "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." Even though they market "eye salve and ear treatments," they are still "blind and naked." Therefore, the Lord says, "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline."

Jesus Door Knocking

Jesus Knocking at Your Heart's DoorWe find Jesus knocking at the entrance door 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 is 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.) The Brotherhood sought a return to the abundant detail, intense colors, and complex Italian art compositions. Hunt believed the world itself should be read as a visual sign system and therefore incorporated these signs into his paintings. The artist attempted to show Jesus knocking at our heart's door and appealing to the very center of our being. Paul Kuritz, the American theatre and film critic, 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 persistent in trying to get through to us, not breaking, but knocking gently on our heart's door.

Door Handle

Listening EarJesus, in His graciousness, allows us to decide whether or not to respond to him. Note that in the painting, the door's handle is curiously not shown on Jesus' side but on 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 this letter to Laodicea, John of Patmos urges Christian believers to listen and take his words to heart. Each church receives a different message, but all contain warnings and guidance to the people in that generation that apply equally today.

"Rich Laodicea City"
by Ron Meacock © 2021

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