NOMINAL CHRISTIANITY WITH ITS SELF-RELIANCE DESERVES CHRIST’S CRITICISM AS REPULSIVE
GotQuestions.org: What is nominal Christianity?
Outside of arcane discussions in medieval philosophy, nominalism is the possession of a baseless name, title, or description. A nominal presidency, for example, is one in which the president is nothing more than a figurehead. A nominal vacation is one in which the vacationers must still work. Nominalism has to do with empty formalities, things so-called, and meaningless labels.
Nominalism exists in religious circles. Nominal Christians are church-goers or otherwise religious people whose “faith” does not go beyond being identified with a church, Christian group, or denomination. They are Christians in name only; Christ has no bearing in their lives. Nominal Christians may attend church and Christian functions, and they self-identify as “Christians,” but it is just a label. They view religion primarily as a social construct, and they do not allow it to require much of them in terms of morality or responsibility. Nominalists take a minimalist approach to their faith.
Nominalism is of concern to many pastors, preachers, and Christian theologians, as it appears to be on the rise today. Many identify themselves as Christians, but the overall impact of Christianity in the West is not what it once was. But what causes nominalism? Why do people prefer a nominal or in-name-only type of Christianity? One possible reason is that nominal religion is easy. It does not require a changed life. A nominal Christian can point to membership in a church as evidence of his salvation. Church attendance and participation in routines, activities, and programs become the measuring stick rather than a changed life, a new heart, a love for God, and obedience to the Word (see 2 Corinthians 5:17; John 14:23).
Another cause of nominal Christianity is the habit of declaring oneself a Christian because of custom or culture. Whole countries, including Costa Rica, Norway, Denmark, and England, have a form of Christianity as the official state religion. This allows a Norwegian, for example, to culturally identify as a Christian—he is a member of the Church of Norway by default, having been registered in infancy when he was baptized. Even in countries with no state religion, such as the United States, cultural Christianity can lead to nominalism. Someone who was reared in a Christian family, attended church all his life, was baptized, lives in the Bible Belt, etc., often claims allegiance to the Christian faith, in spite of evidence in his life to the contrary.
Another cause of nominalism within the church is legalism, the attempt to transform oneself (or others) inwardly by working on the outward behavior. Some people, especially those raised in the church, conform to standards imposed upon them by parents, other Christians, or the church hierarchy without the inner transformation that can only be produced by the Spirit through the Word (Galatians 6:15). Legalists substitute good deeds for saving faith and compliance for conversion. This naturally leads to nominal Christianity, as church-goers and rule-keepers claim the label “Christian” but have no relationship with Christ.
Buist Fanning: Jesus rebukes the church in Laodicea for their uselessness and their pitiable self-sufficiency; only he can provide what they need, and he appeals to them to repent and renew their fellowship with him.
The message to the church in Laodicea is even more negative than the one to Sardis (3:1–6), but ends with a warm appeal for renewed fellowship. Christ who is full of truth and ruler of all (v. 14) strongly rebukes their conduct (vv. 15–18), but he reminds them of his love even in chastening and invites them to repentance and restoration of intimacy (vv. 19–20). The promise to the overcomer looks to the continuation of that intimacy in sharing Christ’s rule in the new age (v. 21). The message is structured in inverted parallelism moving through three main themes: rule (vv. 14, 21), dining fellowship (vv. 15–16, 19–20), and true prosperity (vv. 17–18).
Kendell Easley: The church of Laodicea is guilty of such self-sufficiency that they must repent and receive Christ’s provision of righteousness in order again to experience intimate fellowship with him.
James Hamilton: It seems that the affluence of Laodicea made the church there particularly vulnerable to self-reliance. Given the enormous affluence of our own culture, we need to hear what Jesus says to the church in Laodicea. We need to be shown that the wealth of our culture does not meet our deepest needs.
Jesus calls the church in Laodicea to rely on him and his resources rather than on their own. . .
Jesus calls the church to recognize that their needs go deeper than what their resources can handle. Their problem is not physical and economic but spiritual. Their abundant physical and economic resources have dulled their sense of need for God and the gospel, and Jesus calls them to recognize the deep need they have so that they will cease to be lukewarm.
(:14) PROLOGUE – LISTEN TO THE RELIABLE TESTIMONY OF JESUS CHRIST
A. Command to Write to the Church at Laodicea
“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write:”
D.A. Waite: [Regarding the name of this city] The Lord Jesus Christ is addressing the Laodicean church. LAOS is people and DOKEO is to say or to think. It’s WHAT THE PEOPLE THINK. My friends, who cares what the people think? What does GOD THINK? That’s THE important issue!! The Laodicean church was a lackadaisical church!”
Buist Fanning: Laodicea was the city located farthest south and east among the seven cities, about 50 miles southeast of Philadelphia in the Lycus River valley, with Hierapolis a few miles to its north and Colossae a few miles to its south. The Seleucids founded it in the mid-third century BC on the site of earlier settlements. The location was advantageous for agriculture and herding as well as strategic for trade, and the city prospered immediately. It was at a major intersection of highways, one running west-to-east from Ephesus to Iconium and on to Syria, and one running northwest-to-southeast from Smyrna and Sardis to Colossae and Attalia. Strabo, writing about AD 25, extolled its rapid growth, its wealth, and the soft black wool it produced (Geogr. 12.8.16). Tacitus records its severe damage from an earthquake around AD 60 from which it recovered from its own resources without any help from Rome (Ann. 14.27). Its extant ruins reflect a large city with impressive public buildings including two theaters, monumental gates, a colonnaded main street, and a stadium built in AD 79 in honor of the emperor Titus.
Grant Osborne: It is likely that the three sister churches (Laodicea, Hierapolis, Colosse) were established at the same time by Epaphras, who founded the Colossian church (Col. 1:7) as well as evangelized Laodicea and Hierapolis (Col. 4:13) during Paul’s three-year ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19). Paul had not visited these churches at the time of his first imprisonment (Col. 2:1), though he may have done so subsequently (Philem. 22). Many believe that the “epistle to Laodicea” (Col. 4:16) may have been Ephesians, which we know to have been a circular letter. The church, like the city itself, had grown fat and complacent, satisfied with its wealth but quite devoid of any spiritual depth. This letter has nothing good to say about Laodicea, which was thus worse than Sardis.
B. Characterization of Christ as the Reliable Witness
Grant Osborne: All three terms are in deliberate contrast with the lukewarm Laodiceans, who were neither faithful nor true to Christ and whose witness was virtually nonexistent.
Buist Fanning: Jesus in his earthly life and supremely in his death embodied completely reliable testimony about God and his redemption, and his trustworthy witness continues in the revelation he now communicates through John (cf. 22:20; also 2:13: Antipas, “my faithful witness”). The addition of the adjective “true” suggests how the preceding description came to be used here. The title “the Amen” (ὁ Ἀμήν) is transliterated from the Hebrew ןמֵ אָ (meaning “surely,” from the verbal root “be firm, trustworthy”). As a title it is likely drawn from Isaiah 65:16 that refers twice to God’s people counting on “the God of truth,” translated in the LXX as “the true [reliable] God” (τὸν θεὸν τὸν ἀληθινόν). This theme of Christ as fully reliable in bearing witness to the truth should encourage this church to accept his forthcoming counsel about their true condition and its remedy (vv. 17–18).
John MacArthur: Amen is a transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning “truth,” “affirmation,” or “certainty.” It refers to that which is firm, fixed, and unchangeable. Amen is often used in Scripture to affirm the truthfulness of a statement (e. g., Num. 5:22; Neh. 8:6; Matt. 6:13; Rom. 16:27; 1 Cor. 16:24; and also Matt. 5:18; 6:2; Mark 9:1; Luke 4:24; John 1:51; 3:3, 5, 11; 5:19; where the underlying Greek amen is rendered “verily” in the KJV and “truly” in the NASB). Whatever God says is true and certain; therefore, He is the God of truth.
Robert Thomas: Since the principal indictment against the Laodicean church is lukewarmness, Christ’s attributes of sincerity and truth come to the forefront as He deals with those whose alleged devotion to Him is only superficial and not substantial.
“the faithful and true Witness,”
Robert Thomas: This title given to Christ stands in conspicuous contrast to the Laodicean church, which was neither faithful nor true. Alēthinos supplies the dimension of “true” or “genuine” to Christ’s witness. The picture of Christ is not merely that of His truthfulness, but goes beyond to portray the exemplification of the perfect ideal of a witness in whom all the highest conditions of a witness are met, one whose testimony never falls short of the truth (Trench; Swete; Moffatt; Beckwith; Lenski).
David Thompson: The people of the church were phonies. They were not faithful and they were not true. In contrast to them, Jesus Christ is the witness who is faithful and true in everything He says. His assessment of this church will be a faithful and true assessment. He cannot say or do anything false.
Van Parunak: He is the perfect example of a witness:
- He has first-hand knowledge of the information in question;
- He is willing to testify to that knowledge;
- He is truthful
“the Beginning of the creation of God,”
Buist Fanning: The connection with 1:5 (see above) suggests that “ruler, authority” (paralleling 1:5, “ruler [ἄρχων] over the kings of the earth”) is a better sense for ἀρχή here. Revelation speaks often about God’s sovereign rule over all things (1:8; 11:17; 15:3; 19:6) or Christ’s (1:5; 2:26–27; 3:21; 12:5; 17:14; 19:15–16; 20:4–6) or God’s and Christ’s together (5:12–13; 11:15; 12:10). Within this immediate context the ideas seem to flow in an inverted thematic structure by which this verse is parallel to v. 21 in speaking about Christ’s authority or rule with his Father, and this is done in preparation for the vision (chs. 4–5) of the heavenly throne room where every creature offers worship to God and the Lamb (5:13).
John MacArthur: “Firstborn” (prōtotokos) is not limited to the first one born chronologically, but refers to the supreme or preeminent one, the one receiving the highest honor (cf. Ps. 89:27). Christ is thus the source (archē) of the creation, and the supreme person (prōtotokos) in it.
Van Parunak: The third title echos several earlier scriptures. Most immediately, “beginning” ἀρχή G746 is closely related to “prince” ἄρχων G758 in 1:5 (“prince of the kings of the earth”), and can also mean “ruler” (cf. use of the root in Gn 1:26, 28; see note on Christ’s authority). He is the beginning of the creation, but he is also its human ruler, as 1:5 anticipates. Isa 65:15 makes this point, where the God of Amen slays his enemies and exercising the ruler’s prerogative of renaming his subjects, as we saw already in 3:12.
That which he begins and rules is called the creation. The emphasis we have already seen on Isaiah 65 suggests that the focus here is not on the original creation, but on the new creation promised in Isa 65:17, the new heavens and new earth.
The first step in that new creation was the resurrection of our Lord, which 1:5 emphasizes by giving him the title “firstborn of the dead.” That title in turn leads us to yet another text that lies behind 3:14, Col 1:15-18, the only other reference in the Bible to “the firstborn of the dead.” This passage is particularly relevant because Laodicea would have read this epistle.
Colossians 1 is often used by those who would deny the full deity of our Lord to suggest that he is a created being. But a careful consideration of its structure shows that this is not the case. The first verse of this passage summarizes the rest, a summary-exposition pattern common in Paul. It presents our Lord as both God (the image of the invisible God) and man (the firstborn of every creature, or “all creation,” as AV translates the word in Rev 3:14).
Col 1:15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
As the visible manifestation of God, he is the one who actually carried out the work of creation (1:16-17), as reported in Gen 1:1, “God created the heavens and the earth.”
[image of the invisible God:] 16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
Even before the incarnation, throughout the OT, the Son is the form in which God revealed himself visibly to his creatures, as “the angel of the Lord.” Four times in these two verses Paul insists that he made “all things.” As John would later write in his gospel,
John 1:3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
John is quite clear: if it was created, he created it. So he himself cannot be created.
The confusion has come by trying to interpret “firstborn of every creature” as an introduction to vv. 16-17. But Paul’s repetition of the word “firstborn” in v. 18 shows that this second clause is meant as a summary of v. 18. The reference here is not to the first creation, but to the second, which begins with his resurrection:
[firstborn of all creation:] 18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
In Col 1:18, Paul calls the Lord “the beginning,” the same title the Lord takes in Rev 3:14. But note that it is associated with his place as “firstborn of the dead.” Our Lord, having become a man, is the first participant (by resurrection) in the new creation promised in Isa 65:17-18.
Isa 65:17 For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. 18 But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.
In Colossians, the centerpiece of this new creation is the church. Revelation ends in “a new heaven and a new earth” (21:1). Again, the church is central, represented as a city:
Rev 21:9 And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife. 10 And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,
As the faithful and true witness, our Lord attests not only to what is true now, but also to what is coming. Laodicea is proud of its strategic location and the wealth that comes from it. But it has already been dominated by another city, Rome, and a major theme of the Revelation is that Rome itself will one day be defeated by the new Jerusalem, representing the people of God in their eternal state. If the church of the Laodicea wishes to participate in that glorious future, they must heed what this faithful witness says.
C. Communication from the Sovereign Head of the Church
I. (:15-18) CRITICISM OF LUKEWARM CHURCH
A. (:15-16) Categorization of Lukewarm Church as Repulsive
- (:15) Nominal Christianity Defined as Lukewarm
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot;
I would that you were cold or hot.”
Robert Thomas: As in the previous messages, the Lord follows His self-description with oida (“I know”), a word depicting intimate knowledge that is complete and infallible (Swete; Lenski). When used of human knowledge, this word designates something known by observation; but referring to divine knowledge, it points to a comprehension that is absolute because it is based on omniscience. The objects of His knowledge are sou ta erga (“your works”) as in four of the six earlier messages (Rev. 2:2, 19; 3:1, 8). In each case the works are more than the deeds done. They are a reflection of life and conduct in general, including outward and inward spiritual activities (Alford). They are evidence of the inward spiritual condition the Lord alone sees and knows directly (Beckwith; Lenski). It is by means of these that men prove what they actually are.
[Argues for the position that the temperament of this church left much to be desired by way of devotion to Christ.]
Ineffectiveness in service [the position advocated by Fanning below] is a strange way for Christ to evaluate this church. The other messages define works in terms of inner qualities of the Christian life. Would He censure the Laodiceans on the basis of external accomplishments? Probably not. How then is the objection that Christ would not want a church to be cold to be answered? The best suggestion is that spiritual coldness, even to the point of open hostility, is preferable to lukewarmness and repulsive indifference because it at least suggests that religion is something to be in earnest about. From an ethical standpoint, a frank repudiation is at least more promising than a half-and-half attachment (Alford; Moffatt; Caird). To prefer outright rejection over a halfway response is startling, to say the least, but to profess Christianity while remaining untouched by its fire is a disaster. There is more hope for the openly antagonistic than for the coolly indifferent. The state of coldness is more conducive to a person’s coming to Christ than the state of lukewarmness, as illustrated in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (Walvoord; Beasley-Murray).
Buist Fanning: He then captures their behavior specifically with a powerful metaphor, sharply rebuking how useless and displeasing their conduct is to him. It is the metaphor of cold, hot, or lukewarm water—in this case specifically drinking water, since v. 16b refers to expelling it “out of my mouth.” Construing the appropriate sense for this can be challenging because we must be careful to understand the ancient cultural and linguistic setting and not just impose what seems natural to our modern situation. Most modern readers are likely to take “lukewarm” and “neither hot nor cold” to mean half-hearted, indifferent, vacillating, and in religious matters perhaps also nominal or syncretistic. This would be in contrast to “hot” as fervent, ardent, enthusiastic (cf. the related verb in Acts 18:25; Rom 12:11) and “cold” as lifeless, aloof, hard-hearted (cf. related verb in Matt 24:12). There may be evidence for this in the command of v. 19 to be earnest or zealous (ζήλευε). But is this really the point of Christ’s rebuke? The context suggests that “lukewarm” is the only negative here, and “hot” or “cold” are equally desirable alternatives. Does Christ actually prefer even outright spiritual hostility or rejection rather than half-heartedness (v. 15c: “I wish that you were cold or hot”)?
One approach leading toward a better understanding has been advanced by a number of recent commentaries and aims to incorporate cultural insights drawn from studies of the ancient site of Laodicea and its surrounding area. These studies focused on the water supply of Laodicea and the nearby cities of Colossae and Hierapolis. Literary and archeological evidence from the ancient world suggests that Colossae had an abundant supply of fresh, cool water for drinking and Hierapolis was known for hot mineral waters (evident even today to visitors to the site). Both could be seen as desirable and useful for human use and consumption. In contrast, it was thought that the site of Laodicea itself lacked a ready water supply, and pipes that carried hot waters from another site (five miles away) provided only a tepid and mineral-laden supply. Given these notable local conditions, being “lukewarm,” it is argued, means not half-hearted or indifferent but useless or ineffective, “providing neither refreshment for the spiritually weary, nor healing for the spiritually sick.”
This interpretation itself seems essentially correct, but the archeological evidence to support it has been seriously questioned in recent years, and it fails to explain certain details from the text. This reading sees the value of hot water to lie in its healing and soothing properties for bathing, while the text seems to imply water for drinking at all three temperature levels. The reason for “spitting” out the displeasing water is not due to its high mineral content, as implied by some explanations just noted, but is due to its tepid temperature, which for some reason was not preferred compared to hot or cold. A better suggestion is to ground the sense in ancient practices more broadly rather than in local conditions understandable only in Laodicea. Koester has found evidence of common dining practices across the Greco-Roman world that explain the imagery of Revelation 3:15–16 more satisfactorily than the localized explanations. For example, drinks taken with a meal (water as well as wine) were not always served at room temperature. If a host could manage it, there was a preference for cold drinks on some occasions and for hot on others, depending on the climate. Diners desired cold drinks when it was hot and hot drinks when it was cold according to Plato (Rep. 437 d–e), and other writers reflect this too. At a minimum this background for the imagery of 3:15–16 suggests that Christ faults the Laodicean church not so much for half-hearted commitment or passivity as for conduct repulsive to him, conduct that he vehemently rejects (he is about to “spit” it from his mouth, v. 16b). Their conduct is further described in vv. 17–18 as self-sufficient and satisfied with material wealth (see below), which certainly displeases the Lord.
Grant Osborne: The church should not have matched its water supply. The Laodiceans should have been known for their spiritual healing (like Hierapolis) or their refreshing, life-giving ministry (like Colosse). Instead, as Jesus’ next statement reads, they were “lukewarm.” They were devoid of works and useless to the Lord.
- (:16) Nauseating Rejection of Lukewarm Church
“So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold,
I will spit you out of My mouth.”
Apparently the church included many apostate professing believers who will ultimately be rejected by Christ.
Robert Thomas: The key term describing their state is chliaros (“lukewarm”). It appears only here in biblical Greek (Charles). Traditionally, the image behind this metaphor is related to the water supply in Laodicea. The city appears to have had difficulty in this regard. Some recent studies have proposed that the problem was impurities in the water that caused vomiting (Hemer), but this contradicts the plain testimony of the text. The problem was the temperature of the water. Neighboring Hierapolis had hot, spring water, valuable for its medicinal effects. In its journey to Laodicea it lost some of its heat and consequently medicinal value by the time it arrived either overland or by aqueduct in Laodicea. Nearby Colosse had cool, life-giving water that was refreshing as a beverage (Hemer). The water in Laodicea was somewhere between these two in temperature. Such tepid water was sickening to drink on either a hot or a cold day. The metaphorical meaning of this divine estimate of the church portrays most vividly the revulsion Laodicea provoked in Christ.
The obvious question is, What was the spiritual status of this people? Clearly their problem was not spiritual immaturity. Jesus would not express dissatisfaction of a young Christian passing though a justifiable stage of Christian growth. It is not sufficient to analyze them simply as spiritually complacent. Nor can they be seen simply as those who have shown some interest in the things of God, but have fallen short of the true testimony of Christ. Neither of these goes far enough in explaining the terrible plight of the ones addressed. Lukewarm is a description of church people who have professed Christ hypocritically but do not have in their hearts the reality of what they pretend to be in their actions. Such hypocrisy offers the only possible reason Christ would prefer coldness to lukewarmness. In fact, the spirit of vv. 15-16 resembles His denunciation of the religious authorities of His day because of their hypocrisy, in contrast with His hopeful expectations with regard to harlots and tax-gatherers. A person who professes to be a Christian, but secretly has not believed in Christ, thinks that such a profession is enough to get him by. Nothing can be done with a nominal Christian who cannot recognize that he needs repentance and that Jesus is really outside His life (Moffatt). The five adjectives that describe this church in v. 17 make it quite evident that, corporately speaking, they did not have a relationship with Christ as Savior. This probably cannot be pressed to mean that there were no genuine Christians there. It simply means they were so few in number and insignificant in influence that the Lord did not find it necessary to acknowledge their presence as He did in a similar situation with the church of Sardis (cf. 3:4). By and large, the church had come under the dominance of pretending Christians.
[Yet as noted below, it also seems that Jesus is addressing believers who have slipped into a self-deceived, self-sufficient state of complacency regarding spiritual matters. So this is not a monolithic group that Jesus is addressing.]
Van Parunak: The threat here is another metaphor for the danger facing Ephesus, there represented as removal of the candlestick. In both cases, the church is at risk of losing its standing with the Lord. If the work of the Spirit stops in a church, if the members no longer do their functions, the formal institution may continue, in the form of rituals and traditions, but over it is written the lament of the tabernacle when the ark was removed— Ichabod, the glory is departed.
B. (:17-18) Condemnation of Self-Deception and Self-Sufficiency
- (:17) Exposure of Self-Deception and Self-Sufficiency
a. Self-Deceived Regarding Resources
“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”
Grant Osborne: The purpose (ἵνα, hina, so that) is true wealth. There is a double irony here. They think they are rich but are actually poor; the only way they can be truly wealthy is to “purchase” gold from Jesus. Yet this cannot be bought; it must be accepted as a gift on the basis of faith. Beale (1999: 305) notes the contrast with Smyrna, which was poor in this world but spiritually rich, while Laodicea had all the wealth of this world but was spiritually poverty-stricken.
b. Self-Deceived Regarding Spiritual Sight
c. Self-Deceived Regarding Righteousness
Buist Fanning: Their self-perception as “wealthy” and needing nothing is an intermingling of the metaphorical and the real sense: they possess material, earthly riches, and they suppose that this represents true and lasting prosperity. In this regard they are the opposite of the church in Smyrna (2:9), but they foreshadow Babylon (18:7–8, 16–19). Their true situation is that they are “not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). Spiritually and ethically they are in great need, and Christ lays bare their true condition in a crescendo of woeful descriptions: “wretched and pitiable” as well as “poor and blind and naked.” The last three are figurative for their true spiritual bankruptcy, ignorance, and shameful exposure as evil and helpless.
- (:18) Exhortation to Seek Their Sufficiency in Christ
a. Seek True Riches
“I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire,
that you may become rich,”
b. Seek True Righteousness
“and white garments, that you may clothe yourself,
and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed;”
Kendell Easley: Laodicea’s famed black wool symbolized the filthy, sinful garments with which the unregenerate are clothed (Isa. 64:6; Zech. 3:3–4). In contrast, God clothes the redeemed with white garments (3:4–5; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13–14; cf. Isa. 61:10), symbolizing the righteous deeds that always accompany genuine saving faith (19:8).
c. Seek True Spiritual Discernment
“and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.”
Buist Fanning: The three failings expressed figuratively at the end of v. 17 (poor, blind, naked) are taken up here in close parallels, and Christ stipulates the cure for them. But the most important point of the verse is that the remedy in each case is something beyond their own vaunted resources (see their clueless self-sufficiency portrayed in v. 17a) and must be obtained from Christ. The image of “buying from me” (ἀγοράσαι παρ’ ἐμοῦ) does not imply that they have any means of payment for such benefits, but it emphasizes the true source of what is required. It alludes to the Lord’s words in Isaiah 55:1 inviting the needy to “buy” (repeated twice in MT; LXX has ἀγοράσατε) without money or payment (alluded to also in Rev 21:6; 22:17).
Kendell Easley: Salve to put on your eyes recalls the miracle of Jesus in which he applied a salve of saliva mixed with dirt in healing the man born blind (John 9:1–12). On that occasion he told his accusers, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (John 9:41). The Laodicean church claimed that it had spiritual insight. Would it recognize its blindness and ask for Christ’s wisdom and insight (Col. 1:9)?
II. (:19-20) CALL FOR REPENTANCE
A. (:19) Grand Plan
- Purpose of Discipline
“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline;”
This would seem to indicate that Christ’s message was largely directed towards believers who had grown complacent in their sense of self sufficiency and were no longer whole-heartedly pursuing godliness.
- Plea for Repentance
“be zealous therefore, and repent.”
Grant Osborne: A “zeal” or eagerness to get right with God must replace the “lukewarm” spirituality that characterized the church. That zeal will be seen in “repentance” (see 2:5, 16, 22; 3:3). The Laodiceans had been blind to their own indifferent spirituality. They had apparently listened to their worldly affluence rather than Christ and had thought material success meant they were right with God (a mistaken theology that paralleled some aspects of ancient Jewish thinking and continues today). Their enthusiasm needed to change focus from self to God, and the only way to do so was to repent.
B. (:20) Gracious Invitation
- Divine Initiative
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock;”
Richard Phillips: This verse is frequently seen as an evangelistic appeal, but the context shows that this is not the case. This text does not urge unbelievers to “ask Jesus into your heart”; instead, Jesus is speaking to his church that has closed its door to him. Moreover, the idea of opening an unbelieving heart to Jesus is not the biblical idea of conversion. Biblical evangelism is the proclaiming of Christ in his person and work so that hearers believe in him as God grants them new hearts (Ezek. 36:25–26), which he opens by his Word (Acts 16:14). James Boice explains that here, Christ “is knocking at the closed hearts of those who are his but who have turned their backs on him and shut him out of their complacent, self-satisfied, worldly Christian lives. The knocking Christ is an image, not of Jesus calling unbelievers to give their hearts to him but of calling drifting, worldly believers to sincere repentance and renewal.”
Grant Osborne: Christ’s compassion is nowhere better exemplified than in this image of him as a loving visitor seeking admittance to one’s home.
John Schultz: At Adam’s creation, God expected that man would himself take the initiative and approach the tree of life in order to eat the fruit thereof. That would have initiated the same feast of love and fellowship as the one Jesus mentions here. Adam’s choice of the tree of knowledge did not annul God’s feast. God’s table has remained spread. The difference is that now man can no longer take the initiative of love. The chasm caused by sin is unbridgeable for us. If God does not take the initiative for us, we are lost for eternity.
- Desired Response
“if anyone hears My voice and opens the door,”
- Divine Reconciliation
“I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me.”
John MacArthur: Christ’s offer to dine with the repentant church speaks of fellowship, communion, and intimacy. Sharing a meal in ancient times symbolized the union of people in loving fellowship. Believers will dine with Christ at the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:9), and in the millennial kingdom (Luke 22:16, 29–30). Dine is from deipneō, which refers to the evening meal, the last meal of the day (cf. Luke 17:8; 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25, where the underlying Greek is rendered “sup,” “supper,” and “supped,” respectively). The Lord Jesus Christ urged them to repent and have fellowship with Him before the night of judgment fell and it was too late forever.
(:21-22) EPILOGUE – BLESSING FOR THOSE WHO OVERCOME
A. (:21) Persevere to Receive Blessing
- Condition of Overcoming
“He who overcomes,”
There is still the opportunity to repent and be included in the party of the overcomers who inherit all of the blessings of Christ’s kingdom.
2 Promise of Blessing = Co-Reigning with Christ
“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.”
B. (:22) Pay Attention
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”