seven letters  laodicea part I

The last message that Jesus sent to the group of seven first-century churches listed in the book of Revelation was one that was written to a church that met in a city known as Laodicea (pronounced "lay-oh-diss-see-ah"). Laodicea was located about 40 miles (65 km) southeast of the ancient city of Philadelphia and was known as a city of wealth and prosperity in the days of the New Testament. The great fortunes of Laodicea were shaped by three important elements that helped identify the city during this period. 

First, Laodicea was one of the major financial centers of its day, just as our modern day banking capitals of Tokyo, New York, Hong Kong, Sydney, London and Frankfurt are today. Next, Laodicea was also a big player in the textile industry and was especially well-known for producing a black colored wool from specially bred sheep. Finally, Laodicea was recognized for producing a type of ointment that was useful in treating certain eye problems as well as other medicines too. These key areas all combined to help Laodicea become a serious force in the financial services, health care and manufacturing industries of the first century. 

An ancient aqueduct, a structure that was used to supply one area with water from another area
Despite these strengths however, Laodicea also had some critical weaknesses. One basic problem involved the city's location. You see, unlike many other cities of it's day (like Sardis for instance), Laodicea's location made it very easy for enemies to attack and invade. While this was serious enough by itself, there was another big problem too. This second problem involved the fact that the city of Laodicea had no water supply of it's own. All the water for the city's daily needs had to be brought in on a six mile (10 km) long structure called an aqueduct from the nearby town of Hierapolis.

Of course, this might not seem like a big deal at first except for one not-so-minor thing: as the water moved along this aqueduct on the way to the city, it would begin to pick up bacteria and all sorts of other nasty things along the way. By time the water finally ended up in Laodicea, the people there had to boil it before they could drink it without getting sick. 

Now this might be more than you ever wanted to know about the ancient city of Laodicea but believe it or not, these little details provide a background that will help explain some of the things that Jesus says in this letter. But before we get into those things, let's first take a look at Jesus' opening words to the church at Laodicea:

"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. I know your deeds..." (Revelation 3:14-15a NIV).

There's something very interesting about this quote but it's not something that you would ordinarily notice in the English translation seen above. It is this "something" that makes Jesus' message to this church very different from the previous six messages that we've already looked at. You see, when Jesus started His earlier letter to the church at Sardis, the original language used to record His message reads exactly like this: 

"And unto the angel of the in Sardis church write…" (Revelation 3:1)*

A look at the original language used in Jesus' letter to the church at Philadelphia reveals that He also opened His message to that church in a similar way: 

"And to the angel of the in Philadelphia church write…" (Revelation 3:7)*  

The same is true for each of the messages to the other four churches too.** However, there is a small but very important difference in Jesus' opening words to the church of Laodicea. When Jesus opens this letter to the church at Laodicea, the actual, literal translation says this: 

"And unto the angel of the of the Laodiceans church write…" (Revelation 3:11)*

Did you notice the slight difference in the way that Jesus started this message to the church of Laodicea and the way that He opened His messages to the other churches that we've looked at? The difference is that this letter is addressed to the "...Laodiceans church" and not the church in Laodicea as all the others were. So what's the big deal about that? Well, this small difference tells us that this message wasn't addressed to Jesus' church in the town of Laodicea- this was the Laodiceans' church. In other words, the Christians in Laodicea had a church but apparently there was no real connection with Christ, except perhaps in name only. So this little detail actually tells us a lot about where the Christians in Laodicea really were spiritually during this time.

Jesus further identifies Himself by saying, "These are the words of the Amen..." Now despite what people sometimes believe, the word "Amen" does not mean, "I'm done with my prayer now." The word "Amen" actually means, "surely, absolutely or 'so be it.'" Jesus then follows this by saying that He is also "...the faithful and true witness..." next. With these things in mind, we can say that Jesus is communicating the idea that He is the One who is surely and absolutely faithful, true, genuine and totally authentic. Another interesting thing is that the word for "witness" mentioned in verse 14 is the word from which we get our modern day word "martyr" which refers to someone who gives up their life for what they believe. So we see that Jesus also identifies Himself as someone who is willing to pay for His commitment to what was authentic, true and genuine with His own life.

Finally, Jesus repeats an important statement that He made to each of the previous six churches that He has already spoken to: "I know your deeds." Even though Jesus knows about everything we've ever done, good or bad, The Doctor wonders how many people really believe that, especially judging by the choices they sometimes make. You see, things like money, status or influence won't matter when we are called to explain our actions to the God who knows everything we've ever done. Jesus says to everyone (including people today), I know your deeds and nothing can be hidden from Him.


* Interlinear Transliterated Bible,  1994 Biblesoft

** Jesus' opening words to the church in Ephesus (Revelation 2:1) are, "Unto the angel of the of Ephesus church write..." in the original language. The difference is that unlike the church at Laodicea, this was the church "of Ephesus" and not "of the Ephesians."

The Doctor is not a real doctor but he plays one on the Internet. E-Mail prescriptions are also available on an individual basis.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptural references taken from The Living Bible, 1971, Tyndale House Publishers

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