We are commanded to buy clothes to cover our nakedness.
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy gold from me refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.Jesus, speaking to the Church at Laodicea in Revelation 3:17-18
The Book of Revelation (also known as The Apocalypse) is full to the brim of figurative and symbolic language. We must draw away the veil to understand what is actually being said and must examine the meaning, rather than take the words at face value.
From the first verse of the Book, the author tells us to expect visual words – word pictures. He will show us, and we are to use our imaginations. We will see familiar metaphors from Israel’s past.
The Apocalypse draws heavily from the Old Testament Prophets, so readers would know to expect a wild ride of multi-headed beasts, impossible swords and cities floating from the sky. Over-the-top visuals capture our thoughts. They reveal to us deeper spiritual principles.
In our key verse, the judgment is that the worldly treasure of those being condemned has left them devoid of spiritual treasure. This may be the source that became the familiar fable from Hans Christian Andersen: the “Emperor’s New Clothes.”
The interpretation of this scriptural passage is that the people here are naked, but believe themselves to be dressed in royal robes. They are blind, but they believe their eyes are perfect.
A little background…
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, prized in the Roman world
- The location of a major medical school known worldwide and
- where an eye salve called Phrygian powder was made from a local stone1
Neither blindness, nor nakedness, are being condemned here as some kind of moral evil.
The church is being told to buy: gold, white robes, and eye salve as the antidote to their predicament. As they already see themselves as possessing these very things, this sets up the impact.
Jesus is telling them that what is required is a spiritual and virtuous transformation of their lives – a metamorphosis.
Later in chapter 19 we are told that “white clothes” symbolize righteous deeds.
The Laodiceans were spiritually blind and naked. Going to the bank, the tailors, and the local eye doctor for these already materially wealthy people would not change their spiritual poverty.
Nakedness here represents the church’s shameful spiritual destitution. In no way do these verses bring shame to our physical bodies.
If we apply Jesus’ salve for our spiritual eyes, our spiritual shame shall become spiritual freedom.