The Seven Churches of Asia - Laodicea (Part 1)

Robert E. Surgenor

Revelation 3:14-22

Traveling 39 miles south and slightly east, we approach Hierapolis, famous for its hot springs and are informed that in another six miles we shall set our feet in the proud, self-sufficient and extremely wealthy city of Laodicea, located near the Lycus River. Following the aqueduct that brought the hot water of Hierapolis to Laodicea we soon see the city afar off. Laodicea had no water supply of its own and was dependent upon the hot water brought from Hierapolis, which by the time it reached Laodicea was lukewarm. Our Lord refers to this in His letter to them. Since an enemy attack on this vulnerable aqueduct would have rendered the city helpless, the Ladocians never felt secure like those of Sardis, consequently it was important for them to keep good relations with all of their neighbors. This fear created a complaisant and tolerant spirit - a chief characteristic of the city. As noticed, in most of the churches visited, the spirit that characterized the city, also permeated the assembly. The complaisant and tolerant spirit was very evident in the church of the Laodiceans. Six miles south of the city lay Colossae, but seemingly her cold water supply was not sought after.

Inquiring, we find the city’s history most interesting. Having been founded by the lonians about 2000 B.C. it was named Diospolis. In the 19th century B.C. this relatively small village was added by the Hittites to their expanding empire. A thousand years later the Phrygians took possession, but soon after the Lydians took control and renamed the village Rhoas. However, about 250 B.C. the Syrians captured Rhoas and Antiochus II rebuilt it, renaming the town Laodicea after his wife Laodice. About 190 B.C. it was incorporated into the kingdom of Pergamum and consequently later, with the rest of that kingdom, passed into the hands of the Roman empire. Possessing no value as a garrison town or fortress, it was looked upon by the empire as a potential liability rather than an asset, especially considering the fact of its recurring damage caused by frequent earthquakes. However, much to the surprise of the empire, Laodicea developed into a city of acknowledged importance, eventually becoming the capital of Phrygia Pacatiana.

Standing at the juncture of two important imperial trade routes we are told that the road pointing westward followed the Maeander River then gently ascended to the Anatolian Plateau, arriving at Ephesus, a total journey of one hundred miles. The road pointing northward and slightly west we have just traveled and along that road lay Philadelphia, Sardis, Thyatira, and Pergamos, in that order. Our visit to Ephesus, the cold and fallen church had left us stiff. Smyrna, the fearful and flogged church caused our hearts to break and tears to flow. Pergamos, the compromising and faltering church and Thyatira, the corrupted and false church, created in us a feeling of disgust. Remember Sardis, the formal and fruitless church? The atmosphere was that of a morgue. From the "morgue" we journeyed on to Philadelphia with a sinking hopeless feeling in our souls. How wonderful to come to an oasis in the desert! How could we ever forget the godliness and the grace manifested to us in the city of brotherly love! The feeble and faithful church was an inspiration to all of us, consequently the journey from our beloved brethren in Philadelphia to Laodicea was an enjoyable one.

However, that joy was about to fade. Of course the flesh would have loved Laodicea perhaps more than any other city. There was much to attract. Entering the city we were stunned at the activity. Theaters abounded, the lavish public baths invited many of the city. Traveling down one of the main streets we notice to our right a fabulous shopping center, only one of many. The latest of fashions are on display; gold is exchanged for expensive clothing. The merchants are extremely busy as crowds of people buy unneeded merchandise to add to their affluent homes. People seemed so proud. We are told that at one time the city was hard hit by the Mithridatic War, but that the city, being proud and wealthy, recovered without any outside assistance. When earthquakes practically devastated the city it refused all help from the imperial government and regained its former position through its own efforts, claiming to have need of nothing. Needless to say, the assembly voiced the same. A voice reaches our ears. It is a local orator glorifying the city and referring to its self-sufficiency. Entering one of Laodicea’s many banks the banker proudly informs us that his institution had the ability to meet all the demands made upon them. He even boasted of the supreme quality of their gold, which had been brought down from the interior and refined in their city. The bank was doing a brisk business as we observed officials and administrators changing money as they were en route for various locations in the interior.

Even in the textile trade, Laodicea boasted. Outside of the city, in the Lycus valley, we notice a large number of strange sheep grazing. Inquiry is made and the herdsman proudly informs us that through a unique and secret way of crossbreeding, they had developed sheep that produced a violet-black, glossy, soft wool. There was none like it in all the world. He also informed us that they were the first to devise a method of weaving without first making yarn. The textile industry provided a considerable source of revenue for the city.

Famous for its school of medicine, Laodicea produced world-famed doctors. The names of Doctors Alexander Philadelphus and Zeusus were stamped on the city’s coins. The medical school was known for producing ointments, the most famous being an eyesalve composed of a mixture of oil and collyrium powder. This ointment was smeared on the eyes as a cure for opthalmic diseases. We noticed women taking oil and dry collyrium made of Phrygian stone, applying the mixture to their eyelids to make themselves appear more glamorous, thus catering to their pride. Christ, in His letter, speaks to the church about gold, raiment, and eyesalve, as we shall see.

In walking the streets, noticing the commerce and the many heathen temples, we inquire about the assembly. There is a large Jewish colony in Laodicea and none of the Jews that we spoke with seemed to be disturbed over the Christians. Why should they be disturbed when the church was of such a colorless character? How unlike the faithful assemblies in Smyrna and Philadelphia, where the Jews were adamantly against the Christians. One woman, with painted face inquired as to who we were. We told her that we were Christians looking for the church of the Laodiceans. She informed us that she was of that church and told us of its location. We were stunned, for she looked no different than the rest of the milling crowd, purchasing goods that they did not really need. Her attire was quite worldly and to an ungodly man she would have appeared quite attractive, but in the eyes of Christ she was a disgrace to her Christian profession. We immediately put a big question mark over her as to reality. Following her directions we came to a large impressive structure. The decor was very eye-catching.

Lord’s Day finds us in the gathering. How unlike Philadelphia! The people here are clothed with the finest of garments. The men are priding themselves in their "goodly (sportive, splendid, magnificent, gorgeous) apparel" (James 2:3). Some of the sisters could hardly be termed modest as they display their figure by their fashionable clothing. We are embarrassed by some. Everything seems allowable. The government appears to be democratic, rather that theocratic. The hall is quite ornate, crafted in the finest of fashion. As we look around we see in the audience money personified and the fashion world displayed - our hearts sink. The hall is packed, a man commences to read the Lord’s letter and a hush falls over the worldly-looking crowd.

The Presentation of Christ

"And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God" (Rev. 3:14).

Christ presents Himself as the One that is True to the church that is false. He speaks of Himself as "the Amen," which means true. The word "true" is a divine title found only in two other places. (1) Isaiah 65:15 where twice God speaks of Himself as, "the God of truth." (2) "For all the promises of God in Him (Christ) are yea, and in Him Amen (true)" (2 Cor. 1:20). Christ is God! Christ is the True One! In Christ all the purposes of God find their center in Christ. Only in Christ is the affirmation and confirmation of the truth of all God has spoken. He alone is the verifier of all the promises of God. Christ has completed the will of God in its entirety. As the True One, He fills all the qualifications of a true witness. The church at Laodicea lacked this quality. The word amen also indicates something "sure, positive, built up, stablished," coming from a root word "nursing," or, "building up." The tender heart of a nurse is manifested to this assembly as our Lord seeks through His letter to advise and appeal to them. The gathering appears to be interested as the first attribute of the Lord is revealed. Let us linger with them until next month. Let us also ask the Lord to preserve us from catering to our fleshly lusts as we move about the city, in and out of the fabulous shopping centers, displaying merchandise that we really do not need. Better yet, shall we not just sit in one of their quiet parks and read our Bibles and learn more of Him, until we meet with the materialistically-minded assembly next month? Quietly reading the scriptures is always most profitable, isn’t it? Will this assembly’s worldly ways remind us of ourselves? Perhaps so! Wait and see. Thanks for staying with us on our instructive journey thus far. May the God of all grace preserve you ‘till we meet again.