Revelation 3:17

you say
λέγεις [legeis] , you are presently saying.

I am rich
The attitude of the city of Laodicea had infected the church. “It is evident that the Christians of Laodicea shared the self-sufficiency of their fellow-townsmen, and carried it into the sphere of their relations with God and Christ.”1 Self-sufficiency is the death-knell of relationship with God for independence of God is sin ! The town had independently recovered from a devastating earthquake in the reign of Tiberius (A.D. 14-37, Luke Luke 3:1) without asking for or receiving help from the Roman senate.2 Its riches and success had influenced the thinking of its residents. Pride and self-sufficiency had crept into the culture and the culture had crept into the church. I am rich, πεπλύτηκα [peplytēka] , is I have become rich, (perfect tense). The emphasis is on the result—now being rich—so it is translated as a present tense.3 Here we see the curse of blessing for Scripture records that where men receive God’s blessing they soon drift away from the very source of their blessing. Everywhere, the pattern of history is that of a revolving wheel:4
  1. Men suffer lack and affliction and turn to God.
  2. God responds to repentance with provision and blesses.
  3. Men glory in their condition of prosperity and grow cold toward God.
  4. Judgment falls and the wheel goes around again.
Man seems unable to experience provision from God without misplacing its source as his own achievements (Jer. Jer. 9:23-24; Hos. Hos. 12:8-9; Luke Luke 12:16-21) which then becomes the focus leading to evil:

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1Ti. 1Ti. 6:6-10)

How different was the condition of the Laodicean church from those in Smyrna (Rev. Rev. 2:9+)!

have need of nothing
It appears the Laodiceans highly valued their independence and that they refused the offer of Rome to help rebuild following the earthquake. Many of the rebuilt structures included the inscription ἐκ τῶν ἰδίων [ek tōn idiōn] (“out of our own resources”).5 God had warned the children of Israel of how their sin could pervert His blessing:

Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, lest-when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty land where there was no water; who brought water for you out of the flinty rock. (Deu. Deu. 8:11-15)

Agur, the son of Jakeh, understood the danger of the lack of need leading to independence from God:

Remove falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches-Feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, “Who is the LORD?” Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God. (Pr. Pr. 30:8-9)

do not know
The Laodicean’s had no idea of their condition for they were spiritually blind (Hos. Hos. 7:8-9; Luke Luke 6:42).

you are
σὺ εἶ [sy ei] , emphatic: you . . . you are.

wretched and miserable
They were wretched, ταλαίπωρος [talaipōros]—afflicted6 , and miserable, ἐλεεινὸς [eleeinos]—pitiable.7 They themselves were afflicted but did not know their condition, hence they were pitiable.

They were poor in the wrong way: spiritually rather than physically. See commentary on Revelation 2:9.

They do not know because they are blind. Scripture makes plain that those who are sure of their sight are most often sightless (Isa. Isa. 42:18-20; John John 9:39-41). So it was with the Laodicean church. Of all the churches which Jesus wrote to, this church was the least likely to respond to His exhortation because it was sure of its health and vision.

But sin makes blind and man cannot perceive his corruption (Eph. Eph. 4:18; Rev. Rev. 3:17+). He believes in the good within himself and deifies his own nature (2Th. 2Th. 2:3-4): ‘Mankind is deity seen from below.’ So long as he believes that, he will never lay hold of the redemption (Mtt. Mat. 9:12).8

So it is with many churches in our day who are convinced that their social activities and programs are an indicator of their spiritual health. Having lost all capability of introspection by the measure of God’s Word, they are unable to assess their condition by anything other than pragmatic measures and ministry statistics. As they grow in influence and numbers, their willingness to admit of the need for correction continually wanes until they reach a condition much like that of the Laodicean church.

They had not watched nor kept their garments so now they were naked (Rev. Rev. 16:15+). Their shame was evident to all but themselves, for they were blind to their own nakedness.


1 Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998, 1906), lxi.

2 Richard Chenevix Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1861), 189.

3 “Intensive Perfect (a.k.a. Resultative Perfect). . . . The perfect may be used to emphasize the results or present state produced by a past action. The English present often is the best translation for such a perfect. This is a common use of the perfect tense.”—Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics - Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1999, 2002), 574.

4 In our own day and culture, we are experiencing stage 3 and nearing stage 4.

5 Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 193.

6 James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1996), G5005.

7 Frederick William Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 249.

8 Erich Sauer, The Dawn of World Redemption (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1951, c1964), 50.