Because thou sayest, I am rich - So far as the language here is concerned, this may refer either to riches literally, or to spiritual riches; that is, to a boast of having religion enough. Prof. Stuart supposes that it refers to the former, and so do Wetstein, Vitringa, and others. Doddridge, Rosenmuller, and others, understand it in the latter sense. There is no doubt that there was much wealth in Laodicea, and that, as a people, they prided themselves on their riches. See the authorities in Wetstein on Colossians 2:1, and Vitringa, p. 160. It is not easy to determine which is the true sense; but may it not have been that there was an allusion to both, and that, in every respect, they boasted that they had enough? May it not have been so much the characteristic of that people to boast of their wealth, that they carried the spirit into everything, and manifested it even in regard to religion? Is it not true that they who have much of this world' s goods, when they make a profession of religion, are very apt to suppose that they are well off in everything, and to feel self-complacent and happy? And is not the possession of much wealth by an individual Christian, or a Christian church, likely to produce just the lukewarmness which it is said existed in the church at Laodicea? If we thus understand it, there will be an accordance with the well-known fact that Laodicea was distinguished for its riches, and, at the same time, with another fact, so common as to be almost universal, that the possession of great wealth tends to make a professed Christian self-complacent and satisfied in every respect; to make him feel that, although he may not have much religion, yet he is on the whole well off; and to produce, in religion, a state of just such lukewarmness as the Saviour here says was loathsome and odious.
And increased with goods - peploutēka - "am enriched." This is only a more emphatic and intensive way of saying the same thing. It has no reference to the kind of riches referred to, but merely denotes the confident manner in which they affirmed that they were rich.
And have need of nothing - Still an emphatic and intensive way of saying that they were rich. In all respects their needs were satisfied; they had enough of everything. They felt, therefore, no stimulus to effort; they sat down in contentment, self-complacency, and indifference. It is almost unavoidable that those who are rich in this world' s goods should feel that they have need of nothing. There is no more common illusion among people than the feeling that if one has wealth he has everything; that there is no want of his nature which cannot be satisfied with that; and that he may now sit down in contentment and ease. Hence, the almost universal desire to be rich; hence the common feeling among those who are rich that there is no occasion for solicitude or care for anything else. Compare Luke 12:19.
And knowest not - There is no just impression in regard to the real poverty and wretchedness of your condition.
That thou art wretched - The word "wretched" we now use to denote the actual consciousness of being miserable, as applicable to one who is sunk into deep distress or affliction. The word here, however, refers rather, to the condition itself than to the consciousness of that condition, for it is said that they did not know it. Their state was, in fact, a miserable state, and was suited to produce actual distress if they had had any just sense of it, though they thought that it was otherwise.
And miserable - This word has, with us now, a similar signification; but the term used here - ̓̀ elēinos - rather means a pitiable state than one actually felt to be so. The meaning is, that their condition was one that was suited to excite pity or compassion; not that they were actually miserable. Compare the notes on I Corinthians 15:19.
And poor - Notwithstanding all their boast of having enough. They really had not what was necessary to meet the actual needs of their nature, and, therefore, they were poor. Their worldly property could not meet the needs of their souls; and, with all their pretensions to piety, they had not religion enough to meet the necessities of their nature when calamities should come, or when death should approach; and they were, therefore, in the strictest sense of the term, poor.
And blind - That is, in a spiritual respect. They did not see the reality of their condition; they had no just views of themselves, of the character of God, of the way of salvation. This seems to be said in connection with the boast which they made in their own minds - that they had everything; that they wanted nothing. One of the great blessings of life is clearness of vision, and their boast that they had everything must have included that; but the speaker here says that they lacked that indispensable thing to completeness of character and to full enjoyment. With all their boasting, they were actually blind - and how could one who was in that state say that he "had need of nothing?"
And naked - Of course, spiritually. Salvation is often represented as a garment Matthew 22:11-12; Revelation 6:11; Revelation 7:9, Revelation 7:13-14; and the declaration here is equivalent to saying that they had no religion. They had nothing to cover the nakedness of the soul, and in respect to the real needs of their nature they were like one who had no clothing in reference to cold, and heat, and storms, and to the shame of nakedness. How could such an one be regarded as rich? We may learn from this instructive verse:
(1) That people may think themselves to be rich, and yet, in fact, be miserably poor. They may have the wealth of this world in abundance, and yet have nothing that really will meet their needs in disappointment, bereavement, sickness, death; the needs of their never-dying soul; their needs in eternity. What had the "rich fool," as he is commonly termed, in the parable, when he came to die? Luke 12:16 ff. What had "Dives," as he is commonly termed, to meet the needs of his nature when he went down to hell? Luke 16:19 ff.
(2) People may have much property, and think that they have all they want, and yet be wretched. In the sense that their condition is a wretched condition, this is always true; and in the sense that they are consciously wretched, this may be, and often is, true also.
(3) People may have great property, and yet be miserable. This is true in the sense that their condition is a pitiable one, and in the sense that they are actually unhappy. There is no more pitiable condition than that where one has great property, and is self-complacent and proud, and who has nevertheless no God, no Saviour, no hope of heaven, and who perhaps that very day may "lift up his eyes in hell, being in torments" ; and it need not be added that there is no greater actual misery in this world than what sometimes finds its way into the palaces of the rich. He greatly errs who thinks that misery is confined to the cottages of the poor.
(4) People may be rich, and think they have all that they want, and yet be blind to their condition. They really have no distinct vision of anything. They have no just views of God, of themselves, of their duty, of this world, or of the next. In most important respects they are in a worse condition than the inmates of an asylum for the blind, for they may have clear views of God and of heaven. Mental darkness is a greater calamity than the loss of natural vision; and there is many an one who is surrounded by all that affluence can give, who never yet had one correct view of his own character, of his God, or of the reality of his condition, and whose condition might have been far better if he had actually been born blind.
(5) There may be gorgeous robes of adorning, and yet real nakedness. With all the decorations that wealth can impart, there may be a nakedness of the soul as real as that of the body would be if, without a rag to cover it, it were exposed to cold, and storm, and shame. The soul destitute of the robes of salvation, is in a worse condition than the body without raiment; for how can it bear the storms of wrath that shall beat upon it forever, and the shame of its exposure in the last dread day?
Other Barnes' Notes entries containing Revelation 3:17:
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