As we assume the appropriate viewing posture for Revelation as a whole and for the letters in particular, what we find is that each church is being asked to respond to a present or looming situation, whether problematic or not. This is obviously the case for each church, and naturally, it is no different for the church at Laodicea. Each church will be well aware of the situation that is being addressed in the letter that is addressed to them, and they can take the steps to respond appropriately.
The Ephesian church is going to know what is meant by their having fallen from their high state and the deeds that they used to do (2:5). The Smyrnans are going to be acutely aware of that which is bringing suffering upon themselves, which may also include imprisonment (2:10). The Pergamum church will know precisely what it means that some are following the teaching of Balaam, while some are following the teaching of the Nicolaitans (2:14-15). The Thyatiran church does not have to guess at what is being communicated in regards to their toleration of Jezebel (2:20). In Sardis, there will be no mystery surrounding their pretending to be alive when they are really dead, in connection with their incomplete works, along with their need to wake up and what it means that there are some who have not stained their clothes (3:1-4). For the Philadelphians, there would have been no difficulty in deciphering talk about their deeds, doors, and an open door that no one can shut (3:7-8). Lastly, the Laodiceans would have known exactly what is being implied by all of the language directed towards them.
The language of cold, hot, lukewarm, vomit, rich, wealthy, in need of nothing, gold, clothing, eye salve, door knocking, and a meal would have been well understood. A purely spiritual interpretation, though clearly an issue of the operation of the Spirit within this church body is being addressed, is unwarranted. The specificity and direct applicability of the language indicates that they would not have been left to wonder what to do or how they were to respond. We may wonder what it means and grasp at all types of straws as part of that wondering, but we do so only if we are too lazy to enter into the text and to hear the letter in the same way that an early church would have heard the letter, which would have been in the same way that other churches were asked to hear the letters of Paul. It must be made as clear as it can possibly be that, in the letters, specific churches with specific issues are addressed. Sometimes they are praised, often they are rebuked, and the meal table is nearly universally a central concern. To go along with that, hearing the letters in the same way that the churches would have heard the letters would not only include a presumption that there are concrete issues being addressed, but it would also include hearing the letter read during the church’s gathering, which would almost certainly include table fellowship.
Together with that, the history of Israel (reaching back to Adam), which would have been a major point of instruction for the Gentile churches, as apart from a knowledge of the story of Israel absolutely no sense can be made of Jesus, His suffering, or His Resurrection. Also, it would be rather difficult for the participants in the church, as they considered themselves the renewed Israel, to correctly live out the responsibilities of being the people of the covenant, if they were not aware of what had befallen the covenant people that had come before them. So that history, and the story of God’s movement through His specially chosen people to accomplish His covenant purposes, would be called to mind by the very powerful phrase used in the sixteenth verse of the third chapter, which was “I am going to vomit you out of My mouth!” This was a highly charged statement that would call to mind a portion of the Levitical narrative.
Considering that and its importance for coming to terms with the church’s need to locate itself within Israel’s narrative, we find in the eighteenth chapter of Leviticus, as “The Lord spoke to Moses” (18:1a), Israel is instructed that “You must not do as they do in the land of Egypt… and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan into which I am about to bring you; you must not walk in their statutes… So you must keep My statutes and My regulations; anyone who does so will live by keeping them” (18:3,5a). We must observe the correlation between God bringing His people into their promised land (a microcosm of the kingdom of God on earth), and His bringing His people (such as the members of the church body at Laodicea), through their confession of Jesus as Lord, into the kingdom of God on earth (that encompasses the whole of the creation) that was inaugurated with the Resurrection of Jesus.
What would happen if God’s people disregarded these words? Picking up in the twenty-fourth verse of the same chapter, we read “Do not defile yourself with any of these things,” that being the customs of the peoples to whom you are supposed to demonstrate an entirely different way of being human as you represent your Creator, “for the nations which I am about to drive out before you have been defiled with all these things. Therefore the land has become unclean and I have brought the punishment for its iniquity upon it, so that the land has vomited out its inhabitants” (18:24-25). Vomited out? Really? So, doing that which runs against the witness and serves to defeat the purposes of the redeeming, Creator God would result in an occurrence of vomiting. This would seem to connect the vomiting of Revelation with the long-running narrative of the people and purposes of God. With that in our thoughts, as it would have been for an early church that was not so unfortunately disconnected from its Jewish roots, we go on to hear God say, “So do not make the land vomit you out because you defile it just as it has vomited out the nations that were before you” (18:28).