Cover Image - ‘And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write’, Rev. 3. 14.
Lycus River, a tributary of the River Meander, in an area of Asia Minor known as Phrygia – now part of present day Turkey. Nearby were the smaller and less important cities of Hierapolis and Colossae. The area around these three cities was especially prone to violent earthquakes, and the landscape was constantly changing. According to William Ramsey this created, ‘a remarkable series of hot springs, and warm mud baths, some in the bed of the Meander, others on it banks’. Although Laodicea was a strongly fortified city, it had limited water supplies, and so was highly vulnerable to a siege as it depended heavily upon water being supplied from local cold springs via an aqueduct. The city was in all probability named after Laodice the first wife of Antiochus II, and later, under Roman rule, became famous in the ancient world as a banking and financial centre, a manufacturing hub for garments produced from local wool, and renowned for its distinguished school of medicine that specialized in producing various treatments including an ointment for the eyes. The Apostle Paul frequently visited the area known as Phrygia, Acts 16. 6; 18. 23, but as the actual boundary of this territory changed on numerous occasions, it is doubtful whether he ever visited the cities of the Lycus valley. This seems to be confirmed by Colossians chapter 1 verses 4, 6 and 9, and especially chapter 2 verse 1. He may, though, have been indirectly responsible for the establishment of New Testament churches in this area. Paul visited the city of Ephesus and stayed there preaching for more than two years, Acts 19. 9, 10. Ephesus was a city located about 100 miles from the Lycus valley. The result of Paul’s preaching was that, ‘all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord’. Amongst this number was a man called Epaphras, a native of Colossae. We suggest that he heard Paul preach, was converted to Christianity, and then became the evangelist of the Lycus valley, Col. 4. 12, 13. There are other references in the letter to the Colossians to the Laodicean church, 4. 13, 15, 16, and, as Colossae was only about ten miles from Laodicea, it seems likely that the two churches were closely identified – notice the exchange of letters that is encouraged by Paul between the two churches in Colossians chapter 4 verse 16. The meaning of the expression, ‘the letter from Laodicea’ NIV, in that text is highly disputed by scholars, but it does not make Paul’s imperative any less meaningful. It could be inferred from Colossians chapter 4 verse 15 that the church in Laodicea met in the house of a person named Nymphas. There are no other references to the Laodicean church until we reach the book of Revelation, where we find a specific letter written to them by the Lord Himself, Rev. 3. 14-22. The Lord’s stinging criticism of this church is graphically highlighted by a number of illustrations drawn from everyday life in Laodicea. This includes a reference to them being neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm in their spiritual lives – undoubtedly relating to the local hot and cold springs and the fact that by the time water came from the cold springs around the city via the aqueduct it would have been lukewarm. Another reference is to them being materially rich, probably through trade and banking activities, but despite their financial wealth and thriving textile industry they were spiritually poor and naked. They boasted of their medical prowess, particularly their use of eye salve, yet they were spiritually blind. How we need, therefore, to heed the warnings of this letter as we witness today in societies that are often dominated by materialism with few ethical or moral absolutes, and which constantly seek to press us into their dominant non-Christian culture, Rom. 12. 2. May we hear the Lord’s voice as He requests permission to enter into our lives again and re-establish fellowship with us, Rev. 3. 20.