Archaeologists working in the ancient city of Laodicea recently discovered a home in the ruins of the city dated to the first century that also contained a church. This has left some wondering if the Apostle John was addressing the believers who attended this church in his message to the seven churches of Asia found in the first three chapters of Revelation.
Laodicea, located in modern Turkey, was the second largest city in Asia during the Roman period second only to Ephesus. It was a very wealthy city as it was part of a major trade route that included Ephesus and Smyrna. In addition, the city was also known for its banking and textile manufacturing.
The home was quite large, 2,000 square meters in size, and was located beside a large theatre. The house had 20 rooms, that included the church, baths, a large hall with 18 columns and as well an area from which its owner, who was apparently quite wealthy, operated a business.
Though the home was built in the first century, it is uncertain when the church was added to the structure but according to Professor Celal Simsek who led the excavation, its addition would have been done secretly. They have discovered several Christian items in the room used for the church.
The inclusion of both a church and business in the home makes it unique for Laodicea.
But it certainly fits with the message that the Apostle John had for believers in that city when he warned that because they were neither hot nor cold that God would spew them out of His mouth and then connected this to their wealth:
15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Revelation 3:15-17 NIV)
John’s description of the believers being lukewarm suggests that they were sitting on the fence in terms of their Christian faith, essentially trying to live in both the pagan and Christian world.
When the Apostle John wrote the book of Revelation, Domitian was the emperor of Rome, and he had instituted Emperor worship that everyone was required to participate in. The only group exempt were the Jews. During its early days, the Christians were considered as a sect of Judaism, but as the gentiles flooded into the church that changed and the Romans started looking upon Christians as separate from the Jews.
This resulted in believers being required to participate in Domitian’s emperor worship. Here is where the problem started. If a person didn’t worship the Roman emperor, they were not allowed to participate in business and trade. They were essentially prevented from buying and selling goods.
This helps us understand the Apostle John’s admonition to the Laodiceans. Since, they were wealthy, it suggests these early believers were participating in Emperor worship while still practising their Christian faith. But despite their wealth, John calls them poor.
This was in contrast to the believers living in neighbouring Smyrna who were true to their faith and because they didn’t participate in the emperor worship were also poor. Nevertheless, John describes them as being rich (Revelation 2:9).
Some have wondered if the emperor worship demanded by Domitian was the Mark of the Beast, that the Apostle John referred to in Revelation 13:16-17. People needed to take this mark in order to buy or sell?
But we need to understand what was happening here in light of a previous statement the Apostle made in 1 John when he wrote of there being many antichrists, but only one antichrist (1 John 2:18).
This verse tells us that Satan will make several attempts to set up his end times rule through the antichrist, I believe Hitler was an example of this, but God will only allow it to happen when the time is right.
Since most of the prophecies mentioned in the Book of Revelation have not come to pass, it means the final end-times antichrist has yet to be revealed. This means that Domitian was just one of those smaller antichrists.
After Christianity was legalized in the Roman Empire in 313 AD, Laodicea became the seat of one of the first early Bishops and several ruins of churches have been found in the city reflecting its large Christian community.
Some have wondered if this large house dated to the first century may have eventually become the home of one of those early Bishops.