September 20: Revelation 3:14-22

Revelation 3:14-22

This is the last of the seven letters in chapters 2-3, addressed to the “(city of the one giving) justice (dikh/) for the people (lao/$)”, i.e. Laodikea, named after the wife of the Seleucid king (Antiochus II) who founded the city (on an older site) in the mid-3rd century B.C. Laodikea was a prosperous commercial and administrative center in Asia, much like Ephesus and Pergamum.

Rev 3:14

As in the case of the previous letter, the introduction to the risen Jesus no longer draws upon the vision in 1:11-16ff, though it does refer back to the description of Jesus in 1:5. There are three titles or descriptive phrases that are used:

    • “the Amen” (o( a)mh/n)—The word a)mh/n in Greek is a transliteration of the Hebrew /m@a* (°¹m¢n), an adverb meaning “firm(ly), secure(ly)”, often used more generally in the sense of “true, certain”, or in the specific (religious) sense of “faithful”. Already in the Old Testament, it was used as an exclamation meant to confirm a particular statement (Num 5:22 etc), and this usage is preserved throughout the New Testament. However, in Isa 65:16, we have the interesting expression /m@a* yh@ýa$ (°§lœhê °¹m¢n), which means something like “(the) God of confirmation”, in the context of swearing oaths, a formula which emphasizes God’s truthfulness and faithfulness (as the one who will confirm the blessings, etc, declared in the oath). Something of this expression may be glimpsed by Paul’s language in 2 Cor 1:17-20.
    • “the trust(worthy) and true witness” (o( ma/rtu$ o( pisto\$ kai\ a)lhqino/$)—For this phrase, and the idea of Jesus as a witness, see the earlier note covering 1:5.
    • “the beginning of God’s (work of) formation” (h( a)rxh\ th=$ kti/sew$ tou= qeou=)—The word kti/si$ literally means something formed or produced, often in the sense of the world/universe as created by God. It occurs 19 times in the New Testament, mainly in Paul’s letters (7 times in Romans). The expression a)rxh\ kti/sew$ (“beginning of [the] formation [by God]”) is found in Mark 13:19 and 2 Pet 3:4. The identification of Jesus with this a)rxh/ could indicate his role in creation, as we see in John 1:1-2. Perhaps more likely is the connection with 1:5 (cf. above), whereby a)rxh/ here would be parallel to the use of the related noun a&rxwn in that verse—i.e. Jesus is the head of all creation, just as he is the chief of all the rulers on the earth. A different idea could be suggested by Col 1:15, with the expression “first-produced [prwto/toko$, i.e. firstborn] of all creation [kti/sew$]”.
Rev 3:15-18

The body of each letter typically contains a “mixed” message, involving both positive (praise) and negative (blame/rebuke) aspects. Here in addressing the congregations in Laodikea, it is primarily negative. This is summarized by a colorful metaphor in the opening statement:

“I have seen your works—that you are not cooled [yuxro/$] and you (are) not boiling (hot) [zesto/$]; I ought (to see that) you are either cooled or boiling!” (v. 15)

These two adjectives—yuxro/$ [“cooled, cold”] and zesto/$ [“boiling (hot)”]—here refer specifically to water, and, in particular, how water (and/or wine) is treated in the setting of the meals and banquets of well-to-do citizens. A drink may be heated or chilled, for the comfort and pleasure of those dining. Jesus is declaring that the believers in Laodikea (and their “works”) have neither of these positive characteristics:

“So, (in) that [i.e. because] you are (luke)warm [xliaro/$], and not cooled and not boiling, I am about to vomit you out of my mouth!” (v. 16)

This reflects a reversal of the Laodikean believers’ self-estimate, and their apparent situation according to human standards:

“(Yes, it is in) that [i.e. because] you say that ‘I am rich and have become rich, and I have no business (asking for any)thing’—and (yet) you have not seen that you are the (one) bearing misery and (deserv)ing of pity, and (indeed) you are poor and blind and naked…” (v. 17)

It would seem that the Laodikean congregations were reasonably well-off and comfortable within the society at large—a situation differing considerably from that of Smyrna, Pergamum or Philadelphia (cf. those letters). This level of comfort for believers often indicates a measure of accommodation to the surrounding culture, though the letter gives no details of anything along these lines. There is no indication, for example, of willing consumption of food sacrificed to the pagan deities, despite the meal/banquet setting of the imagery being used. It would seem that the Laodikean Christians were lacking the kind of humility, etc, indicated by Jesus’ expression “poor in spirit” in the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3). Being perhaps a bit too enamored with worldly comfort (and status), Jesus urges them to seek instead the wealth/honor that comes from God (v. 18):

“…(so) I take counsel with you to purchase (from) alongside me gold having been fired (and glowing) out of fire, (so) that you might (indeed) be rich…”

This is a different sort of “gold”, referring to “heavenly treasure” (Matt 6:21; Lk 12:33f; 18:22), coming from God (and Christ) himself. The verb puro/w, especially in the use of the perfect participle, probably connotes two distinct ideas—(1) the fire of testing, including endurance of suffering (Eph 6:16), and (2) the purity and holiness of God (Rev 1:15). By way of reversal, this true wealth will address the poverty and misery of their current condition (of which they have been unaware):

“…and white garments (so) that you might be cast about (with clothing), and the shame of your nakedness would not shine forth, and kollourion to smear on [i.e. anoint] your eyes (so) that you might see.”

Access to white garments, and to specialized medical treatments such as kollourion (an almost untranslatable term, referring here to a kind of eye-salve), would have been privileges of the wealthier citizens in places like Laodikea. Both, however, have a special religious connotation for believers. The motif of white garments has already appeared in the letters (vv. 4-5, cf. the earlier note), and will occur several more times in the book. The significance of seeing (and its opposite, blindness) as a spiritual metaphor hardly requires comment; it is especially prominent in the Johannine writings.

Rev 3:19

The message shifts more decidedly in the positive direction, with the exhortation in verse 19:

“I rebuke and train as (my) child as (many) as I hold dear; therefore you must be(come) hot and change (your) mind [i.e. repent].”

The verb zhlo/w (“be[come] hot”) relates back to the adjective zesto/$ in vv. 15-16. There, Jesus stated that he wished the Laodikean believers would have either characteristic (cold or hot); here, in light of the idea of gold burning out of fire, he specifically refers to their being hot, in the sense of burning with faith and love.

Rev 3:20

The famous declaration by Jesus in verse 20 encapsulates the dining/banquet imagery of the message (cf. above). Instead of the setting of a Greco-Roman banquet (such as might be attended among the well-to-do in Laodikea), we have the idea of Jesus coming to dine with the believer:

“See, I have taken (my) stand upon the door and I knock—if any (one) should hear my voice and open up the door, I will come into (the house) toward him, and I will have dinner with him, and he with me.”

This emphasizes the motif of hospitality, of taking in the guest or visitor who knocks at the door. It is possible that there may be a specific eschatological allusion here, to the heavenly/Messianic banquet at the end time (Rev 19:9; cf. Isa 25:6; 1 Enoch 62:14; 2 Baruch 29:8, etc; Koester, p. 340). More properly, it refers to the intimacy and fellowship which the faithful believer has with Jesus. On similar door-imagery related to Jesus, cf. Luke 12:36; 13:24-25; Matt 25:10; John 10:1-2, 7-9; 2 Cor 2:12; Rev 3:8. The image of the open door will be used again, in a different context, in 4:1.

Note how the body of the letter may be outlined:

    • Dining: Greco-Roman banquet imagery, with chilled and heated water/wine
      • Rejection by Jesus—he spits out (throws up) the lukewarm drink
        • The apparent wealth, but real poverty, of the believers
        • Exhortation to obtain true wealth from God/Christ
      • Acceptance by Jesus—he comes to dine with them
    • Dining: Fellowship with Jesus in the believers’ own house
Rev 3:21

The concluding promise (v. 21) continues this motif of fellowship with Jesus:

“(For) the (one) being [i.e. who is] victorious, I will give to him to sit with me on my ruling-seat [qro/no$], even as I was victorious and sat with my Father on His ruling-seat.”

There are several interesting examples in the Gospel tradition, where we find the idea of disciples sitting alongside of Jesus on his throne, when he exercises rule over the kingdom of God/Christ. The most prominent tradition is that in Mark 10:35-45 par. Another is found in Matt 19:28, where Jesus speaks of the twelve (apostles), sitting on thrones similar to his own, and judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Luke apparently has a separate version of this tradition, but has it set during the Last Supper; this raises an interesting parallel with the situation here in Rev 3:20-21:

    • Jesus dining with his faithful followers (v. 20; Lk 22:14-20)
      • The promise of his followers ruling with him, on thrones (v. 21; Lk 22:28-30)

The idea of believers ruling (in heaven)—that is, sharing in Jesus’ own rule—is found at several points in the book of Revelation (2:26-28; 21:7). The throne of God (and Christ) is especially prominent in the book; the reference here certainly is meant to foreshadow the vision in 4:1-11 (to be discussed in the next note).

Here again, we also find the important association of Jesus’ ruling authority with his death and resurrection (rather than with any sense of his pre-existent, eternal deity). This is the fundamental meaning of the verb nika/w here. Of the 28 occurrences of this verb in the New Testament, 17 are in the book of Revelation. It is used at the start of each concluding promise in the letters (“[to] the [one] being victorious…”). The believer who is faithful and endures (i.e. suffers) essentially will share in the death and resurrection of Jesus. This sharing in Jesus’ victory (over the world, sin, evil, etc) is also a key motif in the Gospel and Letters of John (Jn 16:33; 1 Jn 2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4-5). As I have mentioned on a number of occasions, in the earliest Christian preaching and Gospel-proclamation, Jesus status and position at God’s right hand (i.e. sharing rule on His throne), was seen a direct result of his resurrection/exaltation (Acts 2:25, 33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 1 Pet 3:22). Psalm 110:1 was certainly influential in shaping the early Christian understanding of this aspect of Jesus’ identity as the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God.