Posted: 11 Dec 2010 11:00 PM PST
THE SEVEN CHURCHES OF Asia Minor (roughly the western third of modern Turkey) differ quite a bit from one another (Rev. 2–3). In most instances they reflect something of the cities in which they are located, either by mirroring their faults or by withstanding their oppression. Two of the seven churches, at Smyrna and Philadelphia, are small and under attack, and they receive no criticism. The other five are in various degrees of jeopardy.
The church that receives the least encouragement and the most condemnation is the church at Laodicea (Rev. 3:14–22), a church that reflects its surroundings far too closely. Laodicea was a banking center. Here travelers to the East changed their money, as did Cicero, the famous Roman orator, when he traveled beyond the borders of the Empire toward the East. The money business made the city wealthy. It was also known as an ophthalmic center. Eye infections were not uncommon, and at Laodicea doctors had developed a poultice that many found effective. The sheep in this area produced a particularly tough, black wool—the "jeans" material of the ancient world. The only real drawback to the town was its water system. Nearby Colossae had the only fresh spring water in the Lycus Valley; nearby Hierapolis boasted hot springs, renowned as a place for "taking the cure." Laodicea had to bring in its water through stone pipes from miles away, and this water was foul. It left thick calcium carbonate deposits in the pipes, and was infamous in the ancient world for its disgusting taste.
John picks up on these points. The church thinks it is rich, but does not realize it is spiritually bankrupt. It believes it can "see," i.e., that it is discerning, when in fact it is blind. It holds that it is well dressed, entirely presentable, whereas God perceives it is naked. This church has become smug and proud in all the ways the city is smug and proud. The exalted Jesus urges that this church "buy" the "gold" that only he can give, the eye salve only he can provide, and clothes, white clothes (signaling purity) only he can give them (Rev. 3:18). For in his experience, in their current state they are to him like Laodicea's water: neither cool and refreshing (like the water at Colossae), nor hot and medicinal (like the water at Hierapolis), but frankly nauseating. They are neither cool and useful, nor hot and useful; they are merely disgusting and make him retch.
Many a church in the West finds itself in a similar position. Hear the Word of the Lord: "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 him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:19–20).
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