(Col. 1:7, 4:12-13, 16; Rev. 1:11, 3:14-22)
The last of the seven churches of Revelation was that of Laodicea. As a crossroad of two important roads, this city had an important commercial and logistical position. The road that carried John’s letter began at Ephesus, and moved north through Smyrna and Pergamum before turning east to Thyatira. Dropping due south, the letters were carried to Sardis, then southeast to Philadeplphia and finally Laodicea. Evidence of the ancient road demonstrates that it continued to Colossae and eventually to the Mediterranean port at Attalia (Antalya).
Intersecting with the Pergamum – Attalia road was an inland roadway from Cappadocia via Apamea (due east of Laodicea). This road gently eased down to the coast at Ephesus, some 160 kilometers away. Ten miles east of the city lay the remains of Colossae, an important city in the writing and ministry of the Apostle Paul.
Established in the C3 BCE by the Seleucid Antiochus II, the city was named after his wife Laodice. Built on the Lycus Tributary of the Meander River, it was surnamed “Laodicea on Lycus”, to distinguish it from other similarly named cities. The city was apparently addressed with the nearby cities of Hierapolis and Colossae (Col. 2:1; 4:13-16) and was no doubt linked in trade and commerce with those cities.
Though reasonably strong from the trade in what Strabo referred to as “raven-black wool” and its thriving agricultural base, the city did need the assistance of Rome after an earthquake disabled the city in 60 CE, according to Tacitus. The garment industry recovered, and competed with Hierapolis and Colossae for the textile manufacture and sale. There was also development of a medical industry, based on the eye salves and “Phrygian powders” used in eye treatment (cp. Rev. 3:15-16). The banking and money exchange industry also thrived in the city, an ironic reality of the city that was called “poor and naked and blind!”
Positioned in the Lycus Valley a few miles from the hot calcium waters of modern Pammukale, the tell affords a view to the north and east of the hot waters that pour out of the earth, and the distant snow capped mountains to the south. Drawing the hot water from a distance of more than four miles away, the water would arrive to the city lukewarm, and need to be reheated. Many have noted the irony of Rev. 3:15.
The church of Laodicea was begun by Epaphras while Paul was at Ephesus (cp. Acts 19:10). The New Testament offers no direct evidence of a visit by Paul to the city, though he refers to believers there in the letter to Colossae. The “letter to Laodicea” did not survive (Col. 4:16).