Have you ever imagined, or dreamed, what it would be like to be royalty for just one day? As a kid, I loved going to Burger King – just so I could ask for one of the paper crowns to wear.
As the roles reversed, and I became the parent, it was fun to watch this play out in my daughters. Living in Southern California, we’ve made our fair share of trips to Disneyland. No two trips are ever the same.
Some trips we were content to watch the shows. At other times, it was an opportunity to try new restaurants. Sometimes, the whole goal was to ride as many rides as possible. And then, there were those days when the whole trip was to find all the characters, and have them sign their autographs. Our kids have great memories of those days.
Having five daughters, you can start to imagine which characters took priority. If you said “the Disney Princesses,” then you understand! We would stand in line for more time than it was worth for two minutes of fame – a picture with a princess. For the rest of the day, our girls would consider themselves as adopted princesses…for just a day at least.
While childhood dreams see us often pretending to be royalty, biblically this is a reality. We do not see ourselves as a holy priesthood only; we are also a royal priesthood. We are kings and priests before God who ultimately rule and reign with Him forever. It is this hope that is brought out to the Laodicean church. Let’s understand the background.
The Setting at Laodicea
Laodicea was situated roughly forty-five miles southeast of Philadelphia. It sat about one hundred miles east of Ephesus, placed on the main Roman trade route to eastern Asia Minor.
Founded by the Seleucid king Antiochus II, the city was named for his wife Laodice. Since the two divorced around 253 BC, historians generally concede that the city was founded before then.
Only two cities, one of which was Laodicea, were on the route into Phrygia, the eastern province. Having this type of exclusive location on a dominant trade route allowed this city to thrive in the areas of trade and communication. The city rose in prominence, outpacing both Hierapolis and Colossae, its closest neighbors.
Each of these two cities had a gospel-preaching church, planted by Ephaphras. In Hierapolis, the eventual pastor / bishop was a man named Papias, a disciple of John (as well as a companion of Polycarp).
Around 50 BC, the city was moving into position as an administrative and judicial center for the area. Further, it became a banking center, bringing great wealth into the city. Production of garments as well as medicine lent even more credence to its claim as a great city.
However, there were two drawbacks. Like other cities nearby, the fault lines ran close by, making earthquakes a constant threat. Yet, even with this drawback, the wealth of the city is demonstrated. In 60 AD, the city was destroyed. Here is what Tacitus said about the event: “Laodicea arose from the ruins by the strength of her own resources, and with no help from us.”
The second issue was that the city had no water supply, instead having to use aqueducts to bring in both hot and cold water. Mounce notes that the “location had been determined by the road system rather than by natural resources.”
With all of the cultural advancements of the city, the fact that the city embraced a syncretistic religion should come as no shock. Men Carou (god of the valley) and Zeus were the prominent gods worshiped. But the oracle of Apollo was also important.
In the middle of the pagan worship, Judaism had found a strong attachment as well. Antiochus III reputedly has settled two thousand Jewish families in the area. In fact, Barclay “estimated that there were at least 7,500 adult male Jews in Laodicea and the surrounding district.”
It is possible that this syncretism, along with the strong Jewish flavor, was part of the Colossian heresy Paul mentioned (where he instructed them to also read his letter to Laodicea).
In the next post, we’ll unpack the message given to this church and learn about the promises made to overcomers found here as well.
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