Laodicea—The Wealthy City
NEAR Denizli in southwestern Turkey lie the ruins of the ancient city of Laodicea. Known as Diospolis and then as Rhoas, the city was evidently refounded in the third century B.C.E. by the Seleucid ruler Antiochus II, who named it after his wife Laodice. Being at the junction of major trade routes in the fertile Lycus River valley, Laodicea was ideally situated. Roads linked it with such cities as Ephesus, Pergamum and Philadelphia.
The city was very prosperous. And a sizable Jewish population shared in that prosperity. Indicative of this wealth is the fact that when Governor Flaccus ordered the confiscation of the annual contribution destined for the temple at Jerusalem, the amount seized proved to be more than 20 pounds (10 kilos) of gold. Also, when an earthquake during the reign of Caesar Nero caused considerable damage at Laodicea, the inhabitants were able to rebuild without any help from Rome.
Banking and manufacturing contributed to the city’s wealth. Laodicea was widely known for the glossy black woolen garments made there. Black may have been the natural color of a particular breed of sheep. Or, Laodicea may have been famous for the special black dye developed there.
Besides being a banking and manufacturing center, Laodicea was the home of a medical school. So, since Laodicea lay in the region known as Phrygia, it may well be that the eye medicine known as “Phrygian powder” was produced in the city. Hence, it is not surprising that the worship of Aesculapius, a god of medicine, was very prominent at Laodicea.
Despite its commercial advantages, Laodicea did have a problem with its water supply. The city had no hot springs famed for their healing properties, as did nearby Hierapolis. Nor did it have a refreshing cold-water supply, as did neighboring Colossae. Water had to be piped to Laodicea from a source lying a considerable distance to the south. Initially the water was conveyed by means of an aqueduct and then, closer to the city, through cubical stone blocks. These blocks had been bored through the middle and were then cemented together. Since the water had to be transported over a long distance, it likely was lukewarm upon arriving at Laodicea.
THE CHRISTIAN CONGREGATION AT LAODICEA
Sometime before the year 61 C.E., a Christian congregation came into existence at Laodicea. How was the congregation established? The Bible does not provide specific information on this. However, a Colossian Christian named Epaphras did much to further spiritual interests there. (Col. 4:12, 13, 15) Also, the effect of the apostle Paul’s work at Ephesus may have reached as far as Laodicea.—Acts 19:10.
Toward the close of the first century, Christians at Laodicea got into a very bad spiritual condition. Through the apostle John, Jesus Christ directed this message to them: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or else hot. So, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth. Because you say: ‘I am rich and have acquired riches and do not need anything at all,’ but you do not know you are miserable and pitiable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire that you may become rich, and white outer garments that you may become dressed and that the shame of your nakedness may not become manifested, and eyesalve to rub in your eyes that you may see.”—Rev. 3:15-18.
It is noteworthy that Jesus Christ evidently drew from the circumstances of Laodicea to illustrate what the congregation needed. Evidently the Christians there shared with the rest of the city’s inhabitants in the general prosperity. But spiritually, the congregation, though thinking otherwise, was poor, blind and naked. Hence, what the congregation needed was not the gold handled by Laodicean bankers. It was not black woolen garments manufactured locally. It was not the “Phrygian powder” produced by the medical profession. Nor was it the hot medicinal waters from nearby Hierapolis, or the cool water of Colossae. But the Laodicean congregation did need that which corresponded to these things in a spiritual sense.
To enrich their Christian personality, members of that congregation were in need of a spiritual “gold refined by fire,” including faith of greater value than literal gold. (1 Pet. 1:6, 7) They did need “white outer garments,” representative of blameless Christian conduct and works. (Rev. 16:15; 19:8) Because of their blindness to Bible truth and Christian responsibilities, they needed spiritual “eyesalve.” It was a time for being definite and clear-cut as to their sacred service and, hence, a time for them to become either stimulatingly hot or refreshingly cool and to cease being lukewarm as to Christian activity.
We today can profit from the fine counsel given to Christians at Laodicea. As the Laodiceans needed to guard against being unduly influenced by the materialistic way of life surrounding them, so must we. By maintaining a healthy spiritual outlook, we can avoid getting into a condition like that of certain Christians in prosperous Laodicea. Thus, our lives will be far richer, to our blessing and to God’s praise.