The Real Thing (Revelation 3:14-22)
“It’s the real thing!” So went a famous advertising slogan some years ago. In this, the last of the seven letters to the churches, there could not be a clearer illustration of the importance of having the real thing. The letter is addressed “To the angel of the church in Laodicea” and later in the letter we find one of most iconic images of Christ in the Bible, made famous for us in the painting of the nineteenth century artist William Holman Hunt: “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” (v20)
As we are often reminded, Christ is seeking admittance to the heart of the saint and not the sinner. Here is a letter to the church and its members, not the world and it’s lost. There is an urgency about the Saviour’s mission, “I am about to spit you out of my mouth!” And there is the exposure of a powerful delusion that is at work in the church that considers itself rich and wanting for nothing. But they didn’t have the real thing.
Laodicea was a fabulously wealthy city, famous for three things: banking, schools of medicine and a textile industry. It was so wealthy that, when it was destroyed by an earthquake in 60 AD Tacitus was able to say that the city, “without any relief from us, recovered itself by its own resources”. Time and again we have seen the danger of adopting the spirit of the society around us and here, in Laodicea, that same self-sufficiency and pride in personal wealth and resources in their secular lives had made the saints lukewarm in their religion. They were a church, they met and worshipped, they were busy churchmen and women who sang the latest choruses, kept the flowers fresh in the side chapel, the church silver polished and the collection plates filled and yet Christ wishes for them that they were either hot or cold. It is a damning indictment to be told that it would be better to be utterly cold towards Christ than wallow in a false piety.
Those who are falsely pious inevitably put their trust in false things and Christ stands at the door of their hearts offering what is true. He tells the saints in Laodicea that they are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” and he invites them to purchase from him three things that contrast starkly with Laodicea’s wealth:
1. “Gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich”
Peter refers to faith as “of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire”, that it “may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pe.1:7)
2. “White clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness”
White robes contrast with black woollen clothing for which the city was famous and nakedness was seen as the ultimate humiliation in the ancient world, while to be clothed in fine clothing was a great honour.
3. “Salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see”
Laodicea’s medical schools would have used a famous salve, brought in from nearby Phrygia, to treat eye complaints. However, Christ alone gives true sight (Jn.9:39)
He stands at the door of hearts gone lukewarm and complacent in things of faith and offers the priceless wealth of faith that is of greater worth than gold, righteousness that is not our own and true insight into the things of God. To all who will open their hearts he offers to come and eat; a picture of leisurely intimacy and association – the real thing.
When it comes to counterfeits the Bible gives us ample warning; Paul wrote to the Colossians:
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world” (Col.2:8)
Whether it is worldly wealth and self-sufficiency or the hollow and deceptive philosophies offered by the world we are to guard against the counterfeit, contend for the faith and refuse to settle for anything less than that which Christ offers and has won for us through his atoning work on the Cross; the real thing.