Saturday, 17 October 2020
Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— Revelation 3:17
The Greek is very forceful in this verse. A more literal rendering would be –
“because thou sayest — I am rich, and have grown rich, and have need of nothing, and hast not known that thou art the wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” YLT
The word “you” (thou) is in the emphatic position. This highlights the arrogance of the attitude being professed – “Because YOU say.” With that in mind, Jesus begins with, “Because you say, ‘I am rich.’”
It is debated whether the word “rich” is speaking of worldly wealth or spiritual riches. However, the debate is really unnecessary. The reason for this is found right in Scripture. The most “super spiritual” of the people in Israel were the Pharisees. This is made evident again and again in the gospels. But the gospel of Luke shows an important connection between their supposed spiritual wealth and their earthly state –
“Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. 15 And He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.’” Luke 16:14, 15
And again, in all three synoptic gospels, this is recorded just after His discussion with a rich young ruler –
And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 And those who heard it said, “Who then can be saved?” Luke 18:24-26
What can be inferred from these passages is the same thing that can be inferred from people’s attitude today in churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and etc., all over the world, and what was surely the case in Laodicea as well. It is that people generally assume that because they have great wealth, God favors them. It is a fallacious category mistake, but it is an easy one to make. In our minds, we equate temporal blessings with divine favor.
Jesus clearly showed in both instances from the gospels that this is incorrect. He now reminds those at Laodicea that this is not so with His words here. Rather, they should pick up their copy of the gospels, read it, and take it to heart. And so, He continues with, “have become wealthy.”
Here, the verb form of the adjective, translated as “rich,” that was just used is given. Keeping the word consistently translated gives a better sense (as seen in the YLT referenced above) – “I am rich, and have grown rich.” Thus, it seems to say, “I am rich (worldly wealth), and have grown rich (in divine favor).” Those of those at Laodicea have conflated the two in their minds, leading them to a very false sense of security. As James notes –
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! 2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. 4 Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. 5 You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.” James 5:1-6
James, writing to those who feel secure in their wealth, reveals the spiritually poor state that they are really in. Further, he shows them that even their earthly wealth can disappear in a moment. In this, they are left with nothing but sorrow and anticipated judgment. For those at Laodicea, they had not taken such lessons to heart. Instead, in their smugness they said that they “have need of nothing.”
The emphatic nature of the words continues by saying more literally, “and of nothing need I have.” They were so filled up with their riches, or supposed riches, that they adamantly state they have no lack at all – Q: “What need do you have?” A: “Need? Of nothing am I in need. I have all I could ever need.” Their words reflect the attitude of the rich fool spoken of by Jesus –
Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. 17 And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ 18 So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ Luke 12:16-20
Like this rich fool, Jesus tells those at Laodicea that they are in dire shape. They have trusted in the wrong thing, and they must consider their state carefully. And so, He adamantly continues by saying, “and do not know that you are wretched.” As seen above, the Greek has an article before “wretched.” They are “the wretched.” It is a way of emphasizing their state. Thus, it is not speaking of their consciousness of the state, but of the state itself. They don’t even realize that they are the wretched, but they are. While they are looking at their bank accounts, Jesus is looking at a spiritually impoverished group of people that are on the wide path to destruction.
Next, He says, “miserable.” The Greek reads, “and miserable” to highlight the new category. The word is found only elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 15:19. It signifies “to be pitied.” While they were walking around showing off their fancy clothes, big carts with well-fed dual ox propulsion, and speaking of their latest vacation to the Mediterranean Sea, the angels of heaven were looking down on them in pity, knowing that what they thought was of value was temporary, of no value, and was actually leading them away from the true treasures of the paradise of God.
Jesus next says they are “poor.” Again, the Greek reads, “and poor.” Here they trusted in their riches, and yet, Jesus shows that these things led them directly to a state of poverty. It was not divine favor that brought them worldly wealth, and so it was not divine favor that rested upon them because of their worldly wealth. What they thought led from one thing to another actually led in the opposite direction.
Again, the Lord continues with, “blind.” And again, the Greek reads, “and blind.” Their eyes were so focused on the worldly that their spiritual eyes were covered over, even to blindness. Contrariwise, this is probably a part of why Paul said these words to the Ephesians –
“Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” Ephesians 1:15-18
The “eyes of your understanding” speaks of spiritual matters. Paul prayed that those he ministered to would have them opened and enlightened. Laodicea needed this in a giant way. The things they looked to only further closed their minds to the truth of their state.
Finally, Jesus says, “and naked.” The words take the reader alllllll the way back to the first account of man. In the Garden of Eden, our first parents disobeyed the word of the Lord and a realization came upon them –
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” Genesis 3:7
They stood naked and exposed before their Creator. Since that time, all humanity has been born into the same condition. But our minds have become dull to the state we are in. We no longer realize the shame of our sin. Until that occurs, we cannot call out for a covering – the only covering – that can hide it, meaning the imputed righteousness of Christ. This is a theme that goes throughout Scripture. The garments provided by the Lord are the only things that can protect us from the coming judgment upon our naked state. This is the condition of those at Laodicea, and the Lord poignantly warns them of this.
Life application: What was the root cause of the lukewarm state of the church at Laodicea? There are two major views on it. One view is that the people of the church were wealthy and prosperous, in money and possessions, and felt secure in their lives of comfort. If this is the case, then they can be equated with a large portion of believers in the wealthier nations of the world today. “Look how God has favored us! We have a big church and nice cars, money in the bank, and not a care in the world. We ‘have need of nothing.’”
The other view is that the church felt they were spiritually prosperous and had a command of the things of God. This church then would have felt much more “spiritual” than those around them and that they were somehow better than the other congregations. “Look at our religion! It is pure and undefiled, and we are not like the rest of the sinners around us. We have dotted every ‘t’ and crossed every ‘i,’ and no one can tell us the error of our ways.”
Unfortunately, they missed the fact that “t’s” need to be crossed and “i’s” need to be dotted. They made the fundamental error of trusting in religion for the sake of religion. In this, they missed the point of true faith and worship.
As noted above, there is a third option, and one that is more than likely. The people at Laodicea fit both views. They had worldly wealth and also a superior attitude in their religious dealings. You see, the two go hand-in-hand quite well. The poor generally have a heart for the things of God, but as societies or groups become prosperous in material possessions, they also tend to solidify their religious lives in a way that exalts the mode of worship over the object of worship – which should always be the Lord Jesus.
How or where we worship is far less important than Who we worship. This doesn’t mean that chaos should rule in our meetings, but it does mean that formal gatherings with no heart for the Lord leave us wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. We stand shameful, hopeless, worthless, confused, and exposed before the eyes of the One who observes our hearts and attitudes.
Lord Jesus, may our hearts not be stolen away from You by worthless material gain, nor by worship which is cold and lifeless. May we not cling to having showy presentations that then make our type of worship the very object of our worship. Rather, help us to use our hearts, breath, actions, and souls to glorify You alone. Amen.