The sun rises and shines on the city. Homes, gardens and temples glisten in the light. The town’s populace awakens and many pour into the streets to start another frenzied day of commerce. Children fill the boulevards and play their favorite games.
The city comes to life.
Markets buzz with heavy trading—stylish wool clothing, dyed tunics, and therapeutic ointments are for sale. And there are many buyers. Merchants from all around the city and well beyond bring money and goods to purchase highly sought-after products of unparalleled value.
Elsewhere in the city, spectators fill a large stadium to watch an afternoon track meet—a weekly occurrence. Thousands cheer on their favorite runners. A wealthy citizen had dedicated the stadium to Emperor Vespasian a few years earlier in AD 79. A gladiator competition is scheduled for tomorrow.
Just outside the city walls, workers perform routine maintenance on pipes that deliver water to the city’s inhabitants—a task of utmost importance since the town has no native water source. One section of pipe must be replaced because of heavy calcium deposits.
As evening comes, people begin to retire to their homes. Businesses close and noise from the hustle and bustle of trade and various activities gradually subsides. Another busy day ends.
Welcome to the world-renowned city of Laodicea—a place of great significance in first-century times, and for true Christians then.
Nearly 2,000 years later, it still carries crucially important meaning for God’s people now.
Chapters 2 and 3 of the book of Revelation contain Jesus Christ’s messages to seven first-century Christian congregations in Asia Minor, or modern-day Turkey—Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamus, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. These cities all sat in clockwise order along a triangular highway, with Laodicea being the last in line. While there were other congregations in this area, these were likely the main ones.
Each message is also to seven successive eras, or stages, of the true Church that span from the time of the early apostles until Christ’s Second Coming. These ancient cities, and the spiritual conditions of the brethren within them, were types of corresponding attitudes that would exist in the era each represented.
By peering into key facets of ancient Laodicea, and life within it, we can avoid falling into the same dangerous mindset of our earlier counterparts—a frame of mind to which Jesus foretold many of His people today would succumb.
Equally important, an examination of this city/era reveals the mercy and love God has for those with His Holy Spirit.
Pay close attention—your eternal life depends on it!
In the ancient world, there were at least six cities called Laodicea. The one mentioned in Revelation was more specifically referred to as Laodicea ad Lyceum (Laodicea on the Lycus) to distinguish it from others. In about 250 BC, Antiochus of Syria renamed the city for his wife, Laodice. Prior to this, the city was called Diospolis, City of Zeus, and afterward Rhodas. Today, Laodicea is deserted and Turks refer to it as Eski-hissar, meaning old castle.
Laodicea’s importance was due to its prime location, where two key trade routes crossed. A road from Ephesus was the most important one in Asia. Following along the valley carved out by the Maeander River, the thoroughfare eventually came to the Gates of Phrygia. This point was so narrow that it was not feasible for a road of any size to pass through. Therefore, it took a detour through the Lycus Valley, where Laodicea was located. The city was also well connected to Hieropolis to the north and Syria to the east.
This strategic position allowed Laodicea to come to prominence when Rome gained control of the area. It became a Roman military outpost and trade center after 133 BC, and served as a gathering point for shipments of taxes and other items of wealth garnered from Palestine and Syria. By the end of the Roman Republic and during its first emperors, Laodicea was one of the most important and influential commercial cities in Asia Minor.
While Laodicea’s position afforded many benefits, it also had a major liability—lack of a water source for the city’s inhabitants. Water had to be transported via high-pressure stone pipes from hot springs at Denizli, which was roughly five miles away. During times of peace, this was not really a problem. But if a war had occurred, an invading army could have easily destroyed the aqueduct and cut off the city’s water supply. This would have been especially disastrous during the dry season, when the Lycus River (only about two miles from the city) dried up. No other town in the Lycus Valley was as dependent on an external water source as Laodicea.
Dr. John McRay wrote of the water supply in Archaeology and the New Testament: “Water piped into Laodicea by aqueduct from the south was so concentrated with minerals that the Roman engineers designed vents, capped by removable stones, so the aqueduct pipes could periodically be cleared of deposits.”
When the water finally reached Laodicea, it was neither therapeutically hot nor refreshingly cold, but rather lukewarm. This is in contrast to the medicinal hot springs found in Hieropolis or the cold-water source in Colossae. We will later see the significance of this.
Ancient Laodicea: Three Characteristics
Three characteristics of this first-century city stand out. First, Laodicea was perhaps the greatest banking and financial center in Asia Minor, and it was one of the wealthiest cities in the world at the time. Currency-changing was a widespread occupation, and the city had its own coins, minted centuries prior to the first century AD.
In AD 17, an earthquake completely destroyed Sardis and other cities, but only damaged Laodicea. Emperor Tiberius approved aid for the city to rebuild.
Then in AD 61, the city was decimated by another earthquake. By this time, however, the city’s inhabitants were so wealthy that they had no need for government financial assistance. Instead, residents had the ability—and chose—to completely rebuild Laodicea using their own resources. They flatly refused help from the Roman government!
Publius Tacitus, a Roman senator and historian who lived from the middle of the first century to the early second century, wrote about the AD 61 earthquake in book 14 of The Annals: “One of the most famous cities of Asia, Laodicea, was in that same year overthrown by an earthquake and without any relief from us recovered itself by its own resources.”
Second, Laodicea was a great center of clothing manufacturing. It mass-produced outer garments including a tunic named trimira. The city was particularly famous for black clothing produced with soft, glossy wool that was highly coveted by the wealthy throughout the ancient world. There is uncertainty as to whether the wool’s rich color was a result of dye or a natural product of a special type of sheep bred in Laodicea. Whatever the case, the high quality was indisputable.
Third, Laodicea was a notable medical center. About 13 miles to the west of town was a temple of a Phrygian god called Men Karou. It was the social, administrative and commercial center of the region where markets were often set up. The temple was also the center of a medical school, which eventually moved to Laodicea. The educational facility was world famous, and with it came all types of pharmaceutical industries.
Town doctors were quite famous—two of them, Zeuxis and Alexander Philalethes, appeared on Laodicean coins.
Physicians in the city adhered to the teachings of Herophilos, who believed that compound diseases required compound medicines. Perhaps the most famous ones they produced were an ointment for the ears (for a time produced only in Laodicea), and an eye salve made from Phrygian powder and oil. People traveled from around the world to obtain these supposed healing elixirs.
These three traits of Laodicea led to its citizens taking great pride in their city, and in their ability to be entirely self-sufficient—a dangerous mindset that came to affect true Christians of the time.
Need of Nothing
Fast-forward from AD 100 to the 20th century. During the 1970s and 1980s, the last era of God’s Church began, and it still continues today. Revelation 3:14-20 contains Jesus’ description of Laodicea—both then and now. Notice how much of the terminology comes from physical aspects and characteristics of the ancient city and its citizens.
Read carefully: “And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things says the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot: I would you were cold or hot. So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth.
“Because you say, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and know not that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel you to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that you may be rich; and white raiment, that you may be clothed, and that the shame of your nakedness do not appear; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.
“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me” (vs. 14-20).
Jesus has nothing good to say about the condition of the Laodicean era. While the passage ends with a positive message—Jesus is willing to enter their lives again—everything beforehand is a stinging rebuke.
Ancient Laodicea’s Christians and non-Christians alike saw themselves as self-sufficient because of the massive amount of wealth they had accumulated, and the seemingly invincible feeling that came with it. And again, they also took great pride in all that their city stood for, physically speaking.
It should be no surprise, then, to learn what the word Laodicea means. According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, the Greek word Laodikeus is derived from two Greek words: laos, which means “people,” and dike, which means “right (as self-evident), that is, justice (the principle, a decision, or its execution).” Combining these two meanings shows that those of the Laodicean mindset are a people that “rule, judge and decide” for themselves.
Recall how the ancient city funded its own reconstruction effort after the great earthquake of AD 61 destroyed the city. They had financial resources that allowed them to rely on no one but themselves.
Today is no different—Laodiceans have the mindset of being “in need of nothing.” They feel they do not need to be subject to God and His government. Though Laodiceans may sincerely believe they are in contact with God and under His rule, Christ plainly states that He is on the outside—meaning Laodiceans are outside His Body. He is no longer leading their lives!
Throughout the 2,000 years of the existence of God’s Church, many Christians have had the tendency to acquire characteristics of the world around them. Each era of the Church has faced specific battles, and many have seemed to have forgotten that Christians are the ekklesia of God, meaning they have been called out of the world and its ways—not called to be like the world!
Among other things, God’s people today have to battle the democratic mindset of the world, where everyone has a voice in everything that occurs. Technology has allowed virtually anyone to set himself up as an authority on just about any subject and spew his opinions to the world. Many true Christians today have succumbed to this temptation.
Rise of the Seventh Era
In the book Where Is the True Church? – and Its Incredible History! Mr. Pack explained how the Laodicean era was born: “After the death of Herbert W. Armstrong, the Worldwide Church of God continued to follow the truths that had been restored to the Church under his leadership. But this continuance lasted for no more than about one year. Like Paul at the end of his life (Acts 20:17-38), Mr. Armstrong had also, in essence, ‘warned with tears,’ for more than three years, of what could happen after his ‘departing.’ He was most concerned with what could take place again if he were no longer in the picture.
“His concerns proved to be well-founded. It quickly became obvious that wolves had entered the corporate sheepfold that Christ had founded through Mr. Armstrong. No one could have possibly imagined what would happen—nor how fast.
“The apostasy foretold to come at the end of the age ushered in the Laodicean Era. It was intended by God to be a great test upon His people. Christ had to allow such a test to distinguish real brethren and true ministers from tares and imposters. Now we would find out if the loyal ministers (and brethren) would remain loyal in Mr. Armstrong’s absence. I Corinthians 11:19 (which summarized this situation) reads, ‘For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.’ The brethren who loved the truth would eventually start gravitating together outside the Worldwide Church of God, but the process would take over a decade to culminate.
“Some important trends of the apostasy need to be summarized. In the latter half of the 1980s, most of the brethren were blissfully unaware that a hostile takeover of the Church had already occurred at the level of highest authority. But it was only a matter of time until it was made known. During this time, some of the preliminary doctrinal changes were subtly made, and the conspirators at first moved cautiously.
“One by one, all the teachings of God’s Church were either slowly altered, almost matter-of-factly, and then done away with completely, or discarded outright. At first, these changes began slowly—but they eventually escalated, furiously assaulting God’s people, and at unprecedented speed. All doctrine was openly said to be ‘on the table.’ Brethren were initially told that they could ‘believe anything, but just stay in the Church and don’t talk about it to others.’ But, for instance, anyone who taught that Christians must keep the Sabbath was to be disfellowshipped. This was also true of ministers who spoke out against other changes.
“Paul explained that this falling away would affect all who ‘received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved’ (II Thes. 2:3, 10). The Greek word for ‘falling away’ is apostasia, meaning literally ‘to defect from the truth.’ While all in the Church had been warned it was coming, most still became entangled in false teachings because they had not stayed close to God, as they should have, through fervent prayer, Bible study, meditation and regular fasting. They were caught unaware.
“By the middle of the 1990s, the realization of what was happening struck home to those who were led by God’s Spirit. Now it had become apparent to all who had eyes to see and ears to hear that a full-blown apostasy—this time, a wholesale departure from the truth—was taking place. The doctrinal changes had moved far beyond the liberals’ watering down of true doctrines that had occurred in the mid-1970s.
“In place of the truth, a newly reinvented form of evangelical Protestantism had been presented to the Church. The instigators no longer needed to make any effort to conceal the conspiracy. Mr. Armstrong and everything that he stood for were openly ridiculed by the apostate leaders.
“In the end, the apostasy produced an astonishing array of wrong thinking, wrong doctrine, wrong administration, wrong ideas, wrong focus—and wrong conduct. Human nature had been unleashed, and there was no reining it in after this had happened. Rebels, false teachers, flatterers, religious hobbyists, false prophets, axe-grinders, opportunists, politicians, troublemakers, gossips, demagogues and imposters of every conceivable kind had permanently emerged to take their place within the landscape of the final era.”
Modern Laodicea: Four Characteristics
Similar to its ancient type, 21st-century Laodicea suffers from a number of specific ailments including: (1) pride in financial wealth and abundance of goods, (2) lukewarm temperature, (3) blindness, and (4) nakedness. Until these debilitating conditions are addressed, those in this state have no hope whatsoever of regaining the attitude of a Philadelphian (sixth) era Christian.
(1) Pride in financial wealth: Laodiceans take great pride in their abundance of riches. Many have amassed financial wealth, contrary to Christ’s plain teachings in Matthew 19:16-24 and Luke 12:13-21. This makes them feel comfortable physically. But all of Laodicea believes they are spiritually rich—that they believe the full truth of God and are living in accordance with what He expects.
Yet Jesus plainly says otherwise. He states that they need to buy of Him true and everlasting riches. “Because you say, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing [notice the smug attitude of being entirely self-sufficient]…I counsel you to buy of Me gold tried in the fire [this means they lack godly character, which is typed by gold], that you may be rich [character leads to true spiritual riches]; and white raiment [a type of righteous acts], that you may be clothed [righteous acts lead to true spiritual clothing], and that the shame of your nakedness do not appear” (Rev. 3:17-18).
(2) Lukewarm temperature: We saw that ancient Laodicea’s lack of a native water supply meant it had to pipe in water from an outside source. By the time it arrived in town, it was neither hot nor cold, but rather lukewarm.
Jesus describes Laodiceans today as lukewarm, and ties this condition directly to their works: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I would you were cold or hot” (Rev. 3:15). Christ would actually prefer His people to be cold rather than lukewarm! Of course, He would prefer hot over both. But a lukewarm Christian is of no use to God: “So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:16). What could be more serious than being cast out of Christ’s mouth—or being thrown out of His Body for all eternity?
Consider water for a moment. Few things are more refreshing than drinking a glass of ice-cold water on a hot summer day. As for hot water, it is beneficial for good health. We mix it with teas, herbs, broths, etc., and it works as a good solvent for cleaning purposes. Lukewarm water, on the other hand, is good for almost nothing—it is not refreshing on a hot summer day, it is of little use for promoting health, and it does not work as well as hot water for cleaning tasks.
Laodiceans lack heat in their spiritual lives, and this leads to a lack of works, which Christians are commanded to produce (Titus 3:8, 14; I John 3:22). They are not ice cold—they do have some zeal and some understanding of the truth, and they do generally keep the Commandments (Rev. 12:17). But since Laodiceans are in a lukewarm state—and lack sufficient good works—Jesus considers them useless. Therefore, maintaining good works is vitally important to God!
(3) Blindness: Ancient Laodicea was proud of its eye ointment, and the healing properties it supposedly carried. Today’s Laodiceans think they have clear spiritual vision. They honestly believe they are living as true Christians—but they deceive themselves, and are blind as a result. We know this because Jesus tells them to “anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” This implies that they are currently blind!
(4) Nakedness: Due to their debilitating “eyesight” problems, Laodiceans have no idea they are walking around spiritually naked.
With what garments should they clothe themselves?
Paul answers the question in Ephesians: “Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (6:13). Note the first piece of armor mentioned in the next verse. He continues, “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth…” (vs. 14).
Those with a Laodicean attitude have lost God’s complete truth. In doing so, their “loins” are exposed for all to see!
These four characteristics alone make clear why Christ summed up this era as “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17). It is a truly sobering description, which can be cured only by anointing one’s eyes spiritually.
Jesus’ Unwavering Promise
But there is good news: hope exists for God’s people in the Laodicean condition. As alluded to earlier, Jesus is most plain about His desire to have a close relationship with His people once again. He promises—and He cannot lie (Titus 1:2)—to sup, or dine, with those who answer His call: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20).
The Greek word translated “sup” is deipnein, and its noun form is deipnon. Ancient Greeks had three meals per day. First was akratisma (breakfast), and it was comprised of nothing more than a piece of bread or two dipped in wine. Then came ariston (lunch) during the middle of the day. Most ate a simple picnic-like snack outside the home or wherever they were at the time. Finally there was deipnon (dinner), which was the main meal of the day, and the most substantial. Ancient Greeks spent much more time eating deipnon than breakfast or lunch, and they enjoyed good conversation at the same time.
Jesus chose deipnon for a specific reason, rather than akratisma or ariston. Those who respond to His call (or knock) at the end of the age will be able to enjoy a lengthy meal—and fellowship—with Him. In other words, Jesus will enter into the person’s home (life) and linger with them for a lengthy amount of time—forever!
Laodicea is the condition prevalent among God’s people today—but it is not the entire Church—nor will it ever be. There is (and will continue to be) those of the Philadelphian spirit—full of zeal, and on fire for the truth and Work of God. They are only found in one Church—The Restored Church of God.
As we have learned, many who have God’s Spirit, but are not currently with us, will recapture their love for the truth and Work—and come back to the Body of Christ. But when this occurs, we must not let down our defenses. The Laodicean condition will not have been eradicated. All of us must remain on guard for this mindset slipping into our lives. Anyone can unwittingly succumb to it. That is why we must be ever vigilant in our personal lives. Never let the fire for God’s Way diminish!
With what little time we have left in the age, may we all stay focused on finishing the Work, maintaining good works in our personal lives, and building God’s holy, righteous character—en route to eternal life in God’s kingdom!