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The Church at Laodicea - Revelation 3:14-22

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Context Matters

About Laodicea

Laodicea: Some Facts

est. 261 BC by the Seleucid king Antiochus II. Named after his wife Laodice
located at an intersection of major trade routes
commercially prosperous; a large money-lending center.
Serious excavations started in 2003


1 stadium
2 theaters
4 bathhouses
4 agoras
6 fountains
2 monumental entraces
a council house
monumental streets
cemeteries surrounded the whole city
underground sanitation system
sanitation system
Syria Street Tile

Site of a 4th Century Church

Water Distribution

had several terminals
Sourced from the Baspinar Spring (Modern Denizli) through twin pipes
“multiple supply pipes joined at a sedimentation pool that filtered impurities before going to the distribution pool
with enough time, lime deposits would form inside the pipes, eventually stopping water flow until replacement
lime deposits are still visible in the exposed sections of pipe.

A Tale of Three Cities

Laodicea was apart of a “tri-city complex” with Colosse and Hierapolis in the Lycus Valley
Colossae was 11 miles away at the foot of Mt. Cadmus - the city’s water supply came from pure snowmelt from the mountains. it was famously fresh, clear and cool.
Hierapolis was across the valley from Laodicea, 4 miles away. - it was famous as a health and healing center. The city had was and is known for its mineral hot springs.
all three cities had strong relationships with the Flavian Emperors
Laodicea eventually received the status of neokoros - city, or warden of the temple.
Laodicean Coin
Hot springs

The Church at Laodicea

probably started by Paul’s Ephesian ministry in Acts 19.
Colossians tells us a bit about it.
Epaphras probably evangelized Colossae (Col. 1.7; 4.13)

house church

Three Key Contextual Points for Interpretation


Banking Center - Cicero the famous philosopher, statesman, and lawyer cashed his letters of credit in Laodicea while traveling (Epis. Fam. 3.5.4) in 51 BC.
Significant Jewish Population - Roman Governor Flaccus restricted export of God from Asia Minor. Jews still sent gold to Jerusalem for the temple tax. Flaccus found out and confiscated 20 pounds of gold in 62 BC.
Doing the math, scholars believe that around 7,500 male Jews lived in and around the city. In other words, this show financial strength as well as a prominent Jewish population.
Earthquake of AD 60 - destroyed the three cities. While Colossae and Hierapolis accepted imperial funds to rebuild (ancient FEMA relief), Laodicea did not. Instead the city used its own resources.


major center for textile manufacturing. Black wool from Laodicea was said to be some of the finest in the world.
this would of course have trade guilds


Men Karou (Phrygian god) later associated with Asklepios, was the local god of healing and had a temple 13 miles from Laodicea
Laodicea was known as a medical center for that and its proximity to Hierapolis’ hot springs.
The temple we just noted had a medical school.


Laodicea was famous for eye salve made from “Phrygian powder” mixed with oil. no one knows what the actual powder was.

To the Text!

Revelation 3.14-22

Identification Rev. 3.14

words of “Amen” - odd use of the word here
Faithful and true witness - Back to the Inaugural vision Rev. 1.5
Challenge for Laodicea is to emulate the witness of Christ in their context.
concept of the beginning of God’s creation
Two options: a) IX as the origin of God’s creation John 1; Col. 1.18. b) new creation as in the resurrection Rev. 1.5
regardless, the idea is that of life. Jesus brings life; he holds the keys to death and hades Rev. 1.18
Therefore, as we’ve seen, the believers doesn’t need to fear the second death.

Account Rev. 3.15

IX knows their works and there isn’t anything good to be said.
While Sardis is dead, but can be rekindled, IX has nothing good to say about the Laodicean church.
In fact there is strong rhetoric used in calling for repentance.
They are lukewarm; they are useless.
the Lycus Valley region understood water.
Hierapolis had warm hot spring water for medicinal use.
Colossae had cold clear water for drinking.
BUT, Laodicea had foul water. Without filtration of some kind, the water was full of impurities causing a person to vomit.
John is using imagery here to communicate in a compelling sense that they Laodiceans were not in the clear.
They would have been compromised by trade guild activity and worship of the emperor. (Remember Pliny’s Letter to Trajan?)
They may have been commercially successful, but not spiritual faithful.
Hot springs

Assessment Rev. 3.16-18

They boast in their wealth
security in their wealth, their prosperity, and their self-sufficiency.
in truth they are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.
They may believe that their wealth is a sign from God, but its a product of their hubris and flirtation (or worse) with idolatry.
to be wealthy was to be Roman, to be Roman was honoring the imperial cult and the gods.
the question of faithfulness is who is kurios/Lord?
Herculaneum home
There is a strong use of irony here.
The Laodiceans are spiritual naked despite their fine wool.
Commerce with Christ brings wealth not commerce with the world.
Commerce with Christ brings refinement (1 Pt; Ps. 12.6), white garments to cloth nakedness, and salve to anoint the eyes.
John uses Gold, Garments and Salve in his call for repentance to Christ.
Their wealth would then be Christ himself, Salvation, Resurrection, and True security.

Exhortation Rev. 3.19-20

“The covenant love theme is precisely on target because of the story of Israel. She was judged because she was loved, and God was trying to save.” Stevens, 369.
God, as in the OT, is calling his people to come back even as they stray.
Zealous - a hot condition. The church can change its lukewarm condition and repent.
Jesus is at the door knocking waiting to be let in to dine with his people.
This is a complete reversal of the honor seeking commercial system of the day.
In this culture meals did not involved mixed social classes. An aspiring citizen would seek out an invitation to dine with the elite and wealthy of Laodicea. This person would be looking for better and better social vantage points to score the next business deal.
In this picture you have the person of the highest status, Christ, coming to his people. A people of all classes, where he communes with them.
Allusion to early church “love feasts” in which the church would meet, eat and observe the Lord’s supper.
Along with this imagery is that prophetic conditionalism. The church can repent, or not.

Promise Rev. 3.21

to those who conquer by way of faithful testimony, they will be with Christ.
imagery of enthronement - Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection (that is, his faithful witness) led to his enthronement with his father. The faithful emulation of the passion of Jesus by the church leads to their enthronement, as we will see in Rev. 21-22.
It should be noted that the text begins with the churches and ends with the churches with John’s epistolary conclusion.


#1 - Discerning between enjoying the blessings of God and comprise with the blessings of God.

not hedonists and not aestheticists

#2 - Faithful Witness is Always knowing and acknowledging Jesus as Lord

Competition for Lordship of Jesus can be many things.
Caesar, king, president, vocation, family, self, etc.
Good things can take Jesus’ place, but when Jesus is Lord, all things fall into place.
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