It does indeed seem to be the case that it is the possession of wealth that is causing the problem that is being worked out in their practice as a church. In introducing these three things, Jesus, through John, has called attention to Laodicea’s rejection of imperial assistance for rebuilding efforts following an earthquake. They were rich, had acquired great wealth, and were in need of nothing. This was true of Laodicea as a city, and apparently, had also become true of this church as well. The celebration of wealth had infected the church in such a way that they were denying the kingdom of their God by their practice (much like Laodicea denied Rome’s assistance, which also denies the extension of Roman power), causing Jesus to see them as being wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.
Having made His point concerning what the wealth had accomplished, always with an eye towards correcting the practice of the church, Jesus takes up a discourse that utilizes the three main wealth generators (financial/gold transactions, textiles, eye salve), relating them to Himself and what is available through Him, so as to make it clear that the blessings that are available to His people as part of His kingdom are far superior to anything that could bring them wealth in the world’s present form, especially if it brought about a denial of Him and His kingdom principles and practices. This denial of kingdom has placed Jesus, as far as He is concerned, outside the church, where He stands at the door and knocks, speaking to them (as He is doing in this letter), and desiring to re-join them. Before expressing what it is that He desires to do, Jesus says, “All those I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent!” (Revelation 3:19)
With this mention of rebuke, discipline, and repentance, Jesus offers them a path back to where they belong. As shall be seen, Jesus’ words are quite specific and quite telling. Jesus is being very explicit, and this church will have no problem in identifying what they are getting wrong, and setting it right. Clearly, the church community at Laodicea believes themselves to be quite special. It would appear that, in this case, there are some wealthy individuals in the church, which is not problematic in and of itself. However, allowing cherished non-church-community ideals to infect the church and its fellowship is highly problematic.
The church, of course, while taking the full measure of its cultural context, attempts to shift their community’s culture in the direction of the cross, recognizing above all the sovereign claim of the covenant God’s kingdom and its consequent demand on those that confess allegiance to its King. The church, which is identified within its community by its fellowship, is not to be overrun by a dominating social ethos in such a way that it begins to reflect society back on itself. If the church is reflecting the values and ethics of the community in which it is to be found, then unless that community is one that is predominantly shaped by an abiding concern for the kingdom of the Creator, then that church is going to be quite handicapped (wretched, poor, pitiful, blind, naked) in its ability to reflect the glory of its God into the world.
The world, of course, is the new world that began taking shape at the Resurrection. Just as a people of Israel’s God was sent into a promised land to live in a certain way that their God desired and to redeem that land as the firstfruits of a redeemed humanity and creation, so too are the people of this same God following the Resurrection, and in the transformative power of the Spirit and the Gospel confession, delivered into their promised land (now the entire creation), to live as their God desires, as the firstfruits of a redeemed humanity and a redeemed cosmos.