The book of Revelation was written in Apocalyptic genre. Our bookstores today don’t carry books in that category. There are no Apocalyptic sections or aisles to peruse. The highly symbolic nature of this style of writing is very foreign to us. Revelation also has over 400 allusions to the Old Testament. If we knew our Old Testaments better, our interpretations of this prophetic book would be more in tune with the author’s intent. As always, historical background and grammatical context are key to arriving at a good understanding of the intended meaning of the text. That was our approach to the following video.
I just love the way Jesus knows his original audience and shines a light directly on what needs to be addressed with scathing accuracy. That the World May Know with Ray Vander Laan points out the following details about Laodicea’s history:
Laodicea was renowned for three main industries:
A banking center for the province of Asia Minor, including a gold exchange; The textile center where glossy, black wool was woven into garments called trimata that were prized in the Roman world; The location of a major medical school known worldwide and where an eye salve called Phyrigian powder was made from a local stone.
Revelation 3:14-22 makes a lot more sense when you know these details.
In 60 AD an earthquake destroyed the city. Unlike surrounding cities, Laodicea refused funds from Rome to rebuild the city because they prided themselves on their own wealth. Their banking institution even minted its own coins that said the words, “We did it ourselves.” (See Bema podcast)! In their pride, they confided in themselves leaving little room for God (sounds familiar). They only sore spot was the source of water.
Laodicea was situated between Hierapolis and Colossae. Hierapolis was known for it’s hot mineral water and Colossae had cold spring water. Water had to be piped in from 6 miles to Laodicea. The mix of hot and cold caused the water in this town to be, you guessed it, lukewarm!
All of these facts make Jesus’ words sting all the more. In this passage, Jesus is not saying that nudity is a sin. Far from it. He’s comparing and contrasting several areas to point out the spiritual need of the people. They aren’t rich, they’re poor, spiritually. They aren’t healing blindness, they ARE blind, spiritually. They don’t have luxurious black wool garments, they are naked and need white clothes (Lookup Revelation 19:8 to see how the text itself interprets the fine linen we are to wear). Compare and contrast.
Some people insist on reading Revelation literally. Others spiritualize everything allegorically. I choose to read it naturally. If it’s a symbol (commonly known as one) let it be a symbol. If it’s a literal reference, let it be one. You can’t read all of Revelation literally. Otherwise (just one example) the flat earthers may be right about the four corners of the earth (Rev. 7:1)! We know that to be an expression meant to convey the idea of the whole world. That one is obvious. Psalm 50:10 is an example outside of Revelation showing how numbers need to be weighed, not measured. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. What about hill #1001? Does he cease to own the cattle from then on? Or is all the earth the Lord’s and everything in it?
A strict literal reading might in some small way seem to indicate that nakedness is shameful. However, this is not the natural reading of the passage. The poverty and destitution associated with nakedness, before the invention of the loom, is what was shameful. Is being poor or blind a sin? No. Those are the other word pictures given in context. The point isn’t to show these pitiful conditions as sinful in and of themselves. The point was to show that when you trust in yourself and try to prove you have no need for God, you are actually to be pitied for your spiritual condition of weakness.
There is great danger in pride and self-confidence. Let’s not let that also define how we approach sacred texts, ignoring all the clues left to help us interpret Jesus’ words correctly.