Laodicea was located on a plateau several hundred feet high, making the city easily fortified, but vulnerable in another way. Located in a valley but up on a plateau, the city had no natural springs or sources of water at the top. Consequently, the city had to pipe in the water from miles away, using an elaborate aqueduct system, and this water system was vulnerable to attacking forces. Antiochus II established the city, naming it for his first wife, establishing the town’s founding date as sometime before 253 B.C., since by this time he had divorced her.
There was a large Jewish contingent in the valley’s three cities, which led the local governor to issue a decree to stop them sending the temple taxes to Jerusalem. Of course the committed families tried to send it anyway, but this tax shipment was confiscated. From the amount of gold confiscated by the Roman government, scholars have determined that around 7,500 Jewish men lived in Laodicea at the time. Which means that several thousand more women and children would have lived there also. At the time of peace in the Roman Empire, these families prospered as the city grew and prospered.
The city served as an important commercial center, banking center and industrial center. It was so rich in fact, that when ruined by an earthquake in 60 A.D., the city used its own resources to rebuild; it needed no additional assistance from Rome. The most famous product coming out of Laodicea at the time was soft, black wool. This wool, extremely valuable and sought after, was used in clothes, carpets, and for many other products. Another important aspect of the city’s wealth came from medicine. In Laodicea an eye-salve was discovered that the city then exported all over the Greco-Roman world. These three aspects of the city – finance, wool, and eye salve -are seen clearly in what Jesus has to say to this church.
Revelation 3:14-22 is a letter from Jesus to the church in Laodicea. We look back at this ancient document and wonder if it could really hold some information which applies to our lives today. The clear answer for those who want to find it is, yes. The church of Laodicea looks so similar to many churches today, and many scholars have said so. Consider this quote from John R. W. Stott:
Perhaps none of the seven letters is more appropriate to the twentieth-century church than this. It describes vividly the respectable, sentimental, nominal, skin-deep religiosity which is so widespread among us today. Our Christianity is flabby and anemic. We appear to have taken a lukewarm bath of religion.
In fact it was this church’s lukewarm condition that led Jesus to say:
So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.
In this letter, Jesus is calling lost people to step over the line of faith, the weak in faith to become zealous in their convictions, and the lukewarm to become committed through repentance. The point of Revelation 3:16 is not to bring condemnation, but to stimulate the church to return to Jesus in faith and service. It is restorative, not judgmental. It is a second chance, or maybe a third. That’s why the spitting out part is not the last thing Jesus says to this church. He also says:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.
If anyone… is the operative phrase here. Jesus excludes no one from His grace. Jesus will reject no one who comes in faith. Jesus is all-inclusive to those who return to Him, or having rejected Him come in repentance for their lack of faith. For the church today, for people of faith all over the world, this letter to Laodicea ends with an applicable truth.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.