Presently, I am wrapping up my study of the seven churches of Revelation 2 & 3, as I consider the seventh of those churches. The city of Laodicea was situated along two major trade routes that connected Rome and Europe to Mesopotamia and to Egypt. Laodicea had three major industries. The first was producing a kind of black wool that was world renowned for its exquisite value. Its second industry was medicine, which produced a medicinal salve that boasted of cures for eye disease and other problems. People came to Laodicea from all over the world, seeking cures for their ailments. The third industry was banking, which was made possible by the huge successes of its first two industries. Laodicea became so rich that when its city was destroyed by an earthquake, cir. 60-62 AD, its inhabitants rejected Rome’s offer to help rebuild, saying they didn’t need anyone’s help and decided to rebuild on their own.
The church at Laodicea believed it was obedient to Christ. They understood themselves to be rich in good works and increased with goods (blessing from above) and had need of nothing more than they already believed they had in Christ (Revelation 3:17). In other words, they were content (Philippians 4:11; 1Timothy 6:8; Hebrews 13:5). On the surface there was no reason for them to believe otherwise.
From a worldly perspective, Laodicea was a very rich city. After all, any city that would refuse help from the emperor when their city was devastated after an earthquake, had to be either foolish or very wealthy. At least some of this wealth had to have come into this church via its membership. They gladly took care of one another. No doubt they cared for those who labored in the word of God, not only for their church, but also financed the evangelization of the city and its surrounding area, perhaps even helping poor churches some distance away. They were rich and increased with goods! They had enough and more, or so it would seem. But, why would this be a problem? Why would Jesus take issue with them for taking care of one another and for spreading the Gospel?
It seems the wealth of the Laodicean church membership was a self-deceptive matter. They did all the right things from a wrong perspective. Certainly, they helped the poor, perhaps even poor churches. Certainly, they took care of their ministers and no doubt financed the spread of the work of God. Nevertheless, what they did for Christ, any group of rich people in the world could have done, if they had a mind to do it. Nothing spectacular was done that would show others that Christ was involved in any of their labors. Everything was done out of their own riches. Nero, himself, could have imitated their works and performed them to perhaps an even greater degree, if he wished to do such a thing. The problem was the works of the Laodicean church were done in the flesh. In the flesh, they had need of nothing! That would also have been true of Nero, himself, so where was Christ in any of their labors?
We are told in Revelation 3:17 that the church didn’t realize it was “wretched (G5005), and miserable (G1652), and poor (G4434), and blind (G5185), and naked” (G1131). They simply didn’t realize their wealth was an affliction (G5005), a trouble that tried their relationship with Christ. As long as their wealth satisfied the needs at hand, why was heaven needed (except to give eternal life)? The church wasn’t wealthy in faith (James 2:5), and was to be pitied (G1652), because, in reality, they were beggars (G4434) of the Spirit of God, because all their labor was done in the flesh. They had no idea of the condition they were in, because they were blind (G5185) to it all, deceived by their wealth and the good works that their wealth could accomplish. As far as the spirit is concerned, their robes were nothing but filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). The world simply saw them as philanthropists, and their glory was that which fades away, nothing eternal here, nothing that would point to Christ. What they needed was to be clothed in Christ (Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27) to hide the nakedness of their flesh. They had a relationship with Christ, but it seems they were heavily influenced by the preachers of the Law (cf. Revelation 2:9, 20-24)