Seeing the weaknesses and problems of the church which is located in Laodicea (vv. 15-17) one wonders what Christ’s counsel would be for such a church. This is the topic we want to discover today.
In v. 18 Christ gives the answer to her problems – if they would listen to his advice their condition would be reversed. Christ is giving “advice” – quite an understatement as Lord of the church! The Laodiceans should not purchase more stuff from merchants, but purchase the things they really need from Christ! “From me,” Christ in fact is saying (the “from me” clause is emphatic in the Greek text), “from me, you should buy that which you need! I have the answer to your dilemma.” Or as Osborne puts it “Christ is the only proper source of goods that will last, so they have to switch their broker from the marketplace to him” (Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2002], 208).
If we take a look at Rev 1:13b-14 we see that in the opening vision Christ was presented to the churches “as possessing gold and having a white appearance and eyes with piercing vision” (G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster Press, 1999] 307) – he is thus a “suitable” helper in their circumstance. The economic situation is not particular to the Laodiceans but refers to the cities in Asia in general; thus the letter is addressed to all the churches (v. 22). Laodicea (as well as the other cities in the area) was well-known for: (1) banking institutions, (2) its medical school – well-known eye salve in the region, and (3) the flourishing textile trade – Laodicea’s famous “black-wool”. In light of these materialistic goods it is fascinating to see what Christ “advices” them to buy from him: gold, white garment, and eye-salve.
Let us therefore take a closer look at the goods they are to “buy” from Christ.
(1) Gold – “gold refined by fire” is a biblical imagery for purification and the the removal of sin (cf. Job 23:10; Prov. 27:21; Mal. 3:2–3.
(2) White garments: in Rev 3:4-5 we see the Sardian Christians who have “not soiled their garments” who “will walk with [Christ] in white, for they are worthy.” And Christ’s promise to them is: “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments.” Further, “uncovering the shame of nakedness” is OT language where God accuses Israel (and other nations) for their idolatry (see Isa 43:3; Ezek 16:36; 23:29; Nah 3:5). It is of interest to observe that Christ is offering them white garments as the region is known for their “black-wool”. Though being known for such the well-to-do Christians were actually naked. “In other words, it is possible to wear Armani suits and Dior dresses but to be ‘naked’ in the eyes of God” (Osborne, 209). Garments are needed to cover shame (see Gen 3:7 for human attempt to cover their shame and Gen 3:20 where God deals with it) – this shame is pointing to judgment as in the Genesis account. One more observation: “White garments” represent righteousness in the book of Revelation (cf. 3:4, 5; 6:11; 7:9; 19:14). They are washed in the blood of the Lamb (7:13–14). Further they represent glory in God’s kingdom (4:4; 19:14). “This is obviously a call for repentance, for realizing the shame of their true spiritual nakedness and purchasing (at no cost!) the gift (Isa. 55:1) of righteousness in Christ” (Osborne, 210).
In John 9 the author is contrasting a man being born blind to the Pharisees. The former gains physical and then spiritual vision whereas the latter claims to have spiritual sight but are shown to be blind. John 9:39, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Christ wants the Laodiceans to see and thus offers them eye-salve. The writing and reading of this letter already reveals their blindness to them and is thus already (!) salve to their wounds if they accept Christ’s rebuke.
This then is the counsel the Lord of the church is giving the assembly in Laodicea: that they might purchase what they really need from him!
Next week we will look into Christ’s love for the church (v. 19), his desire for intimate fellowship (v. 20), and the challenges to overcome and to listen (vv. 21-22).