I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. (3:18–20)
The Lord Jesus Christ could have instantly judged and destroyed this church filled with unredeemed hypocrites. Instead, He graciously offered them genuine salvation. Christ’s threefold appeal played on the three features the city of Laodicea was most noted for and proud of: its wealth, wool industry, and production of eye salve. Christ offered them spiritual gold, spiritual clothes, and spiritual sight.
The Lord, of course, did not teach that salvation may be earned by good works; lost sinners have nothing with which to buy salvation (Isa. 64:5–6). The buying here is the same as that of the invitation to salvation in Isaiah 55:1: “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” All sinners have to offer is their wretched, lost condition. In exchange for that, Christ offers His righteousness to those who truly repent.
Christ advised the Laodiceans to buy from Him three things, all of which symbolize true redemption. First, they needed to purchase gold refined by fire so that they might become rich. They needed gold that was free of impurities, representing the priceless riches of true salvation. Peter wrote of a “faith … more precious than gold” (1 Pet. 1:7), while Paul defined saving faith as “rich in good works,” having the “treasure of a good foundation for the future” (1 Tim. 6:18–19). Christ offered the Laodiceans a pure, true salvation that would bring them into a real relationship with Him.
Second, Christ advised them to buy white garments so that they might clothe themselves, and that the shame of their nakedness would not be revealed. Laodicea’s famed black wool symbolized the filthy, sinful garments with which the unregenerate are clothed (Isa. 64:6; Zech. 3:3–4). In contrast, God clothes the redeemed with white garments (3:4–5; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13–14; cf. Isa. 61:10), symbolizing the righteous deeds that always accompany genuine saving faith (19:8).
Finally, Christ offered them eye salve to anoint their eyes so that they might see. Though they prided themselves on their allegedly superior spiritual knowledge, the Laodiceans were in fact spiritually stone blind. Blindness represents lack of understanding and knowledge of spiritual truth (cf. Matt. 15:14; 23:16–17, 19, 24, 26; Luke 6:39; John 9:40–41; 12:40; Rom. 2:19; 2 Cor. 4:4; 1 John 2:11). Like all unregenerate people, the Laodiceans desperately needed Christ to “open their eyes so that they [might] turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in [Him]” (Acts 26:18; cf. 1 Pet. 2:9).
Some argue that the language of Christ’s direct appeal to the Laodiceans in verse 19, those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, indicates that they were believers. Verses 18 and 20, however, seem better suited to indicate that they were unregenerate, desperately in need of the gold of true spiritual riches, the garments of true righteousness, and the eye salve that brings true spiritual understanding (v. 18).
Christ has a unique and special love for His elect. Yet, such passages as Mark 10:21 and John 3:16 reveal that He also loves the unredeemed. Because the Laodiceans outwardly identified with Christ’s church and His kingdom, they were in the sphere of His concern. To reprove means to expose and convict. It is a general term for God’s dealings with sinners (cf. John 3:18–20; 16:8; 1 Cor. 14:24; Titus 1:9; Jude 15). Discipline refers to punishment (cf. Luke 23:16, 22) and is used of God’s convicting of unbelievers (2 Tim. 2:25). Thus, the terminology of verse 19 does not demand that Christ be referring to believers. The Lord compassionately, tenderly called those in this unregenerate church to come to saving faith, lest He convict and judge them (cf. Ezek. 18:30–32; 33:11).
But in order for the Laodiceans to be saved, they would have to be zealous and repent. That is tantamount to the attitude of mourning over sin and hungering and thirsting for righteousness of which Jesus spoke (Matt. 5:4, 6). While repentance is not a meritorious work, the New Testament call to salvation always includes it (e.g., Matt. 3:2, 8; 4:17; Mark 6:12; Luke 13:3, 5; 15:7, 10; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22; 11:18; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20; Rom. 2:4; 2 Cor. 7:10; 2 Tim. 2:25; 2 Pet. 3:9). In repentance, the sinner turns from his sin to serve God (1 Thess. 1:9).
Repentance means that you realize that you are a guilty, vile sinner in the presence of God, that you deserve the wrath and punishment of God, that you are hell-bound. It means that you begin to realize that this thing called sin is in you, that you long to get rid of it, and that you turn your back on it in every shape and form. You renounce the world whatever the cost, the world in its mind and outlook as well as its practice, and you deny yourself, and take up the cross and go after Christ. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974], 2:248)
The message to this lost church, as it is to all the unsaved, is to zealously pursue the “repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).
The Lord Jesus Christ followed the call to repentance in verse 19 with a tender, gracious invitation in verse 20. The apostate Laodicean church could only have expected Christ to come in judgment. But the startling reality, introduced by the arresting word behold, was that Christ stood at the door of the Laodicean church and knocked; if anyone in the church would hear His voice and open the door, He would come in to him and dine with him, and he with Christ.
Though this verse has been used in countless tracts and evangelistic messages to depict Christ’s knocking on the door of the sinner’s heart, it is broader than that. The door on which Christ is knocking is not the door to a single human heart, but to the Laodicean church. Christ was outside this apostate church and wanted to come in—something that could only happen if the people repented.
The invitation is, first of all, a personal one, since salvation is individual. But He is knocking on the door of the church, calling the many to saving faith, so that He may enter the church. If one person (anyone) opened the door by repentance and faith, Christ would enter that church through that individual. The picture of Christ outside the Laodicean church seeking entrance strongly implies that, unlike Sardis, there were no believers there at all.
Christ’s offer to dine with the repentant church speaks of fellowship, communion, and intimacy. Sharing a meal in ancient times symbolized the union of people in loving fellowship. Believers will dine with Christ at the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:9), and in the millennial kingdom (Luke 22:16, 29–30). Dine is from deipneō, which refers to the evening meal, the last meal of the day (cf. Luke 17:8; 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25, where the underlying Greek is rendered “sup,” “supper,” and “supped,” respectively). The Lord Jesus Christ urged them to repent and have fellowship with Him before the night of judgment fell and it was too late forever.
3:18–20 (Command). All is not yet lost for this congregation. Christ cares for its members. His command has a biting irony: I counsel you to buy from me things that you do not think you need. Of course, the metaphor buy does not mean that spiritual benefits may be earned or purchased. Christ by his grace supplies them freely. Gold refined in the fire is genuine gold rather than fools gold. It stands here for righteous character that has been proven genuine through testing. Only Christ can take the self-righteous and make them truly holy.
White clothes to wear have already figured in this chapter as the reward of unveiled righteousness given to the “few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes” (3:4). The only way to have such garments is through the provision of Christ, symbolized here as covering your shameful nakedness (lack of righteousness). The symbolism repeats the previous provision of “refined gold” and stands in somewhat ironic contrast to the homespun black woolen clothing they wore so proudly.
Salve to put on your eyes recalls the miracle of Jesus in which he applied a salve of saliva mixed with dirt in healing the man born blind (John 9:1–12). On that occasion he told his accusers, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (John 9:41). The Laodicean church claimed that it had spiritual insight. Would it recognize its blindness and ask for Christ’s wisdom and insight (Col. 1:9)?
The Lord’s criticism is based on his love. Surprisingly, the Greek verb here is a form of phileō (“to have tender affection”) rather than agapaō (“to value unconditionally,” see Rev. 2:19). The verb phileō appears in Revelation only one other time, in 22:15 (but ten times in John’s Gospel). The most undeserving of all the churches is the one for which Christ declares—most emphatically for the I is stressed—the kindest feelings! Yet his declaration of love is balanced by a severe expectation of rebuke and discipline. Proverbs 3:12 is perhaps the basis for this: “The Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”
This church must repent of its self-sufficiency (the verb form suggests a decisive act) and be earnest (the verb suggests an ongoing attitude). Laodicea now joins the ranks of sister churches Ephesus, Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis in needing repentance (2:5, 16, 21; 3:3). Only Smyrna and Philadelphia escape this command of the Lord.
Christ not only wants to provide gold, clothing, and sight to this congregation; he wants them to enjoy his person, his fellowship. If only they admit their Lord, he will give them the richest of fare. His plea, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock,” is poignant and urgent. The verb form for knock suggests insistent, repeated pounding. Although he wants the entire congregation to open the door to fellowship with him, the individual is ultimately the one who must decide, as the singular forms indicate: anyone … him … he.
19. Those whom I love I reprove and discipline. Be zealous, therefore, and repent. 20. Look, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and I will dine with him and he with me.
- “Those whom I love I reprove and discipline.” In these two verses, Jesus admonishes the church in Laodicea. As with much of his teaching, he bases it on the Old Testament Scriptures. Thus, the words “Those whom I love I reprove and discipline” allude to Proverbs 3:12 (see also Heb 12:6): “Because the Lord disciplines those he loves.” Jesus changes the clause from the third person to the first person and adds the verb to reprove. Also, the Greek has the pronoun I at the beginning of the sentence for added emphasis. And last, the Lord speaks in general. He utters the pronoun “those” when he says, “those whom I love,” to indicate that love and discipline go hand in hand in renewing their relationship.
Although the Greek verb agapaō can be translated “I truly love” and the verb phileō “I love” (John 21:15–17 NIV), these verbs are often seen as synonyms. The word agapaō appears in the letter to the church of Philadelphia, “I have loved you” (v. 9), but the verb phileō here. This does not mean that Jesus loved the Philadelphians with true love and the Laodiceans with affection. Rather, it signifies that within the context of rebuke and discipline, Jesus addresses the church of Laodicea in love.
- “Be zealous, therefore, and repent.” Renewal takes place when the recipients of this letter obediently follow the twofold command: “be zealous” and “repent.” Logically, the act of repenting precedes that of being zealous, but the oriental mind is interested in concepts, not analyses. The Greek shows a play on words: the adjective zestos (hot, vv. 15–16, from which we have the derivative “zest”) and the verb zēleue (be zealous!) have the same root. Jesus tells them to begin being zealous for him with a passion that generates spiritual fervor. Zeal is a necessary component of love for God.
Whereas being zealous is a command in the present tense to denote continuity, the imperative “repent” is a once-for-all action. That is, the Laodiceans must make a 180-degree turn by forsaking the past and wholeheartedly adopting their new life in Christ.
- “Look, I stand at the door and knock.” Being shut out from the spiritual life of the individual members of the Laodicean church, Jesus figuratively stands outside the door of their heart and knocks to gain entrance (compare James 5:9). He persistently knocks to gain their attention, so that no one will ever be able to say that the Lord failed to call them. He calls them individually by continually rapping on the doors of their hearts as though the owners are asleep. The stress is on human responsibility to go to the door and answer the one who is seeking entrance. The Lord opened Lydia’s heart (Acts 16:14), but here he waits for the sinner to do so. Here is the crux of divine action and human responsibility. When these two appear with reference to God’s electing grace in human beings, we encounter a mystery that defies human understanding. Scripture teaches God’s intervention and human accountability as the two sides of the proverbial coin (Phil. 2:12–13).
Some scholars view this passage eschatologically as a parallel to the parable of the watchful servant (Matt. 24:33; Mark 13:29; Luke 12:36). They relate the text to the Second Coming of Christ and contend that an eschatological interpretation agrees with a similar motif in Revelation (2:5, 16, 25; 3:11). But formidable objections dissuade other commentators from seeing this parable in the context of the church members in Laodicea whom Jesus told to repent. The Lord stands at the door of their heart, knocks repeatedly, and expects a response from them. The context of the watchful servant parable differs in its details from this passage.
- “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and I will dine with him and he with me.” The term anyone indicates that the call to repentance is broad and inclusive. Jesus not only stands at the door of a sinner’s heart and knocks repeatedly, but he also speaks and calls him or her to repent. As soon as a person responds to Jesus’ voice (compare John 10:3; 18:37), Jesus enters his or her heart. Note well that Jesus is fully in control, for the emphasis in this sentence is on Jesus who speaks, enters one’s heart, and dines with the person who responds. It is clear that the responsibility for listening and responding to Jesus’ voice rests with the hearer.
This sentence teaches “a distinctively Johannine doctrine.” That is, Jesus desires to fellowship with us. In the Eastern mind, hospitality at mealtime demonstrates the host’s trust in and respect for the guest (Ps. 41:9), for the host has opened his home to the guest and breaks bread with him. But here it is Jesus who assumes the role of host, for he says that he will enter and dine with his guest for the main meal of the day. This meal was enjoyed near the end of the day, after working hours, in an atmosphere of leisure and close fellowship. This was a time of conversation during which wholesome topics were discussed, laughter was heard, and counsel was given for solving problems. This passage speaks of union with Christ in a day-by-day walk with him. Although it hints at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and the wedding feast at the return of the Lord, especially in light of the eschatology of verse 21, that is not the main emphasis in verse 20. The emphasis is on communion with Christ.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1999). Revelation 1–11 (pp. 138–140). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Easley, K. H. (1998). Revelation (Vol. 12, pp. 60–61). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Vol. 20, pp. 173–175). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.