“Write to the angel of the church in Laodicea: ‘Thus says the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the originator of God’s creation: I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth. — Revelation 3:14-16
In honor of his wife, Laodice, Seleucid King Antiochus II founded Laodicea in the third century B.C. on the river Lycus in the Phrygian region of Anatolia. The site flourished and became one of the most important commercial cities of Asia Minor on the trade route from the East, famous for its raven-black wool and other textiles. The city was also renowned for its medical school and as a banking center in the Phrygian region.
In 60 B.C.E. during the reign of Nero, a powerful earthquake leveled the city, which was later completely rebuilt. By the end of the fifth century A.D. another earthquake destroyed Laodicea. This time the city was never to be rebuilt, and inhabitants moved to other places nearby such as the site of modern-day Denizli.
In 26 B.C.E., Laodicea competed against ten other cities in Asia Minor for the honor of building a temple to worship the emperor Tiberius. Smyrna was awarded the privilege, while Laodicea was rejected because of insufficient resources.
Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. He is always wrestling for you in his prayers, so that you can stand mature and fully assured in everything God wills. For I testify about him that he works hard for you, for those in Laodicea, and for those in Hierapolis. … Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her home. After this letter has been read at your gathering, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. — Colossians 4:12-13, 15-16
Encompassing an area of about five square kilometers, Laodicea boasts many impressive remains including: two theaters, four bath complexes, five agoras, five fountains, and monumental colonnaded streets (Syria, Ephesus, Stadium Streets), among others. Perhaps the most impressive ruin is the ancient stadium, one of the largest in Anatolia (measuring 285 x 70m). Constructed to run east to west, this stadium could hold 20,000-25,000 spectators. Dedicated to Vespasian in A.D. 79, an inscription above its largest gate reads: “In the name of the seventh consul and the divine son of Emperor Titus Caesar Augustus Vespasian and for the people this stadium was built by the private funds of Nicostrate, the youngest son of Lucius Nicostrate. His heir Nicostrate completed this monument. It is dedicated to Proconsul Marcus Ulpius Trajan.”
Laodicea in Christian History
Of the ancient, tri-city area that included Colossae and Hierapolis, Laodicea stood between its two neighboring cities. Cold mountain springs flowed through Colossae on one side, and the hot springs of Hierapolis created the calcium travertine-capped hills on the other. This natural landscape provided a picturesque reminder of the “lukewarm” critique Christ gave the Laodicean church in Revelation 3.
Trained by Paul in Ephesus, Epaphrus was the one most likely to have shared the gospel in Laodicea. He was sent out as a church planter to the Lycus River Valley (as noted in our sections on Colossae and Hierapolis). The church probably first gathered in the home of Nympha whom Paul greets in a letter written during his first Roman imprisonment. Though he references it in Colossians 4:16, the letter was ultimately lost and not mentioned in the writings of the church fathers.
Paul never visited the churches in the Lycus River Valley, but he clearly felt an apostolic and even fatherly responsibility for them, likely due to his close relationship with Epaphras. He demonstrates this when he tells them, “I want you to know how greatly I am struggling for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person” (Colossians 2:1).
Before and during the time of Christian growth in the city, Laodicea worshipped Zeus and the Anatolian god Men Karou. Though Christianity grew in influence, the city’s bishop, Sagaris, was martyred, and a great controversy arose concerning the celebration of Passover, forcing a church council in the fourth century. Laodicea’s importance in Christendom faded with the city itself in the fifth century A.D.
“When Servilius Paulus was proconsul of Asia, at the time that Sagaris suffered martyrdom, there arose a great controversy at Laodicea concerning the time of the celebration of the Passover, which on that occasion had happened to fall at the proper season; and this treatise was then written.” — Melito of Sardis, Concerning Sagaris
1. First of all, the Scripture about the Hebrew Exodus has been read and the words of the mystery have been explained as to how the sheep was sacrificed and the people were saved.
2. Therefore, understand this, O beloved: The mystery of the Passover is new and old, eternal and temporal, corruptible and incorruptible, mortal and immortal in this fashion:
3. It is old insofar as it concerns the law, but new insofar as it concerns the gospel; temporal insofar as it concerns the type, eternal because of grace; corruptible because of the sacrifice of the sheep, incorruptible because of the life of the Lord; mortal because of his burial in the earth, immortal because of his resurrection from the dead. -Melito, On The Passover Controversy
We have collected together extracts from the Law and the Prophets relating to those things which have been declared concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, that we may prove to your love that this Being is perfect reason, the Word of God; He who was begotten before the light; He who is Creator together with the Father; He who is the Fashioner of man; He who is all in all; He who among the patriarchs is Patriarch; He who in the law is the Law; among the priests, Chief Priest; among kings, the Ruler; among prophets, the Prophet; among the angels, Archangel; in the voice of the preacher, the Word; among spirits, the Spirit; in the Father, the Son; in God, God; King for ever and ever. For this is He who was pilot to Noah; He who was guide to Abraham; He who was bound with Isaac; He who was in exile with Jacob; He who was sold with Joseph; He who was captain of the host with Moses; He who was the divider of the inheritance with Jesus the son of Nun; He who in David and the prophets announced His own sufferings; He who put on a bodily form in the Virgin.
He who was born in Bethlehem; He who was wrapped in swaddling-clothes in the manger; He who was seen by the shepherds; He who was glorified by the angels; He who was worshipped by the Magi; He who was pointed out by John; He who gathered together the apostles; He who preached the kingdom; He who cured the lame; He who gave light to the blind; He who raised the dead; He who appeared in the temple; He who was not believed on by the people; He who was betrayed by Judas; He who was apprehended by the priests; He who was condemned by Pilate; He who was pierced in the flesh; He who was hanged on the tree; He who was buried in the earth; He who rose from the place of the dead; He who appeared to the apostles; He who was carried up to heaven;
He who is seated at the right hand of the Father; He who is the repose of those that are departed; the recoverer of those that are lost; the light of those that are in darkness; the deliverer of those that are captive; the guide of those that go astray; the asylum of the afflicted; the bridegroom of the Church; the charioteer of the cherubim; the captain of the angels; God who is from God; the Son who is from the Father; Jesus Christ the King for evermore. Amen. — Melito of Sardis concerning the Passover controversy, On Faith