Laodicea: The Church with Jesus on the Outside, Part 1

Revelation 3:14-22

Click on this link to read the verses. I will quotes the verses as I explain them.

I once heard of a preacher who came to America from the Far East for the first time. He was given a tour of a mega-Church by its pastor. The pastor showed the visitor all of the facilities and described all of the extensive mega-Church’s ministries. The tour guide ended by stating, “You name it. We’ve got it!” The Asian Pastor asked, “When was the last time you had revival?” The pastor scratched his head, paused for a while, and answered, “We don’t need it!”

This is the spirit of the Church in Laodicea. Its members are self-satisfied and seeking nothing beyond what they have. Let’s look at the Oracle to Laodicea’s message to us in the 21st Century.

Our usefulness to God is not tied to our descent or illustrious history.

vs. 14a And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write…

Click on this link to Zondervan Encyclopedia on Laodicea if you want to read more on the history of Laodicea (see Laodicea below).

The Hellenistic ruler Antiochus II (261-246 BC) named the town for his first wife, Laodikē (“justice of the people”). Laodicea was the wealthiest city in the Lycus valley region. It was famous for its black wool.


Ruins of the colonnade at Laodicea (WikiMedia Commons)


“God [Zeus] whom the Laodiceans worship” see Ramsay, p. 418, below

The city had many banks. “Laodicea minted its own coins several centuries before the Christian era, expressing upon them the attributions and inscriptions of the ancient gods.” (see coin pictured left). After the great earthquake in AD 60, the city refused imperial aid and rebuilt out of its own treasury.

It was famous for its medical school and eye salve (known as “Phrygian powder”). The only deficiency was a poor water supply.

It had a large Jewish population. “According to Josephus, Antiochus the Great (III) settled 2,000 Jewish families in Phrygia and Lydia after deporting them from Babylon” (See Josephus below, Book 12, section 147-149).

The church was possibly founded on Paul’s third missionary journey while he was staying in Ephesus (40 miles west). Also, some believe it may have been founded by Epaphras (Col. 4:12-13). “Laodicea is the only church that is not commended by Jesus Christ.” (see Bible Background below.)

Jesus sees us as we are

vs. 14b The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

Though all these images are not in the vision in Rev. 1:14-16, most are found at the beginning of the chapter. See Rev. 1:5 and “from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.”

“Christ as the beginning of God’s creation refers here not to the events surrounding the world’s creation and foundation but to the resurrection, the new creation expected in the latter days, in the same way as Paul describes Christ as “the beginning, the first-born from the dead” in Col. 1:18” (see Beale, pg. 90, below).

vs. 15 I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!

Left is a cool stream near Colossae; right is hot bathing pools in Hieropolis. Both are modern photographs from Bible Places and WikiMedia.

This letter is the most preached on of the seven. Unfortunately, most sermons are based on a false interpretation of the “hot and cold” characteristics. 

“Lukewarm” is a reference to the fact that the city did not have a good water supply. Either, the water came from hot springs near Hieropolis, 7 miles away, and arrived tepid, or it came from cold springs near Colosse, 10 miles away, and arrived tepid from the sun. In either case, the water would be “lukewarm” and not fit to drink.

We should not try to make the connection between hot water and spiritual zeal. Nor should we make the connection between cold water and a lack of spiritual zeal. This would have been totally unfamiliar to the 1st century Christians. These are strictly modern idioms (see Beale below).

hierapolis map

Map of the location of the Tri-cites of the Lycus valley (source)

More on Laodicea next time.


Beale, G. K. (2015). Revelation: a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.

Bible Background. (1967). Zondervan’s Pictorial Bible Dictionary, 1 Vol. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing.

Josephus, F. (AD 94) Antiquities of the Jews XII. Loeb Classical Library.

“Laodicea.” (1854). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, illustrated by numerous engravings on wood. ed. William Smith, LLD. Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co.

Ramsay, W. (1904). The Letters to the Seven Churches in Asia and their Place in the Plan of the Apocalypse. London, UK: Hodder and Stoughton. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press. 

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

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