2009 Holy Land Tour - Turkey


Part 5 – Laodicea and Colossae





Click on Photos and Charts for larger versions



For the past four weeks, I have been telling you about our recent trip to the nation of Turkey.  Last week I took you along with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary trip into Asia.  That trip took them through several places in Turkey that we visited on this trip.


                   •  Perga (Now Perge)


                   •  Attalia (Now Antalya)


                   •  Pisidian Antioch (Now Yalvaç)


Today, we leave the city of Antalya, where we spent two nights.  We head northwest, travelling some 130 miles to the ancient city of Laodicea.  It is near the modern city of Denizli, which has a population of just under ½ million.  It appears that most of the ancient city has not been built over it.  Laodicea is spread over about one square mile.  Today, the locals call the old city Loudikya.  Antiochus II founded the city in the middle of the 3rd century B.C and named it for his wife, Laodice.


After the death of Alexander the Great in the city of Babylon in 323 BC, his kingdom was divided up between four of his leaders.  Among them, his general, Seleucus, retained the larger portion of the kingdom.


The Seleucid Empire continued from the death of Alexander to 133 B.C..  Most of the kings of this empire were either named Seleucus or Antiochus.  It was against Antiochus IV Epiphanes that the Maccabees revolted.  It is the victory from this battle that the Jew celebrate Hanukkah today.


In 133 B.C. the city came under the Pax Romana and greatly prospered.  Pax Romana is Latin for “Roman Peace”.  Almost immediately, this city began to flourish.  In the first century B.C., the Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero lived in Laodicea.  At that time Cicero was the proconsul (governor) of the province of Cilicia.  Historical records have been found that say Cicero cashed his letters of credit here.  This is indicative of the fact that at this time Laodicea was known as a banking center.


That is one of three main products and services provided by people here.  In addition, the textile and the wool trade was a cash cow for the Laodiceans.  And there was even a medical school that had developed ear and eye ointment.  Some have said that Laodicea was quite possibly the wealthiest city in the world at this time.  When a massive earthquake leveled many cities in western Asia Minor in A.D. 17, the city fathers refused help from Rome to rebuild, but rebuilt the city with their own funds. 


Although this was once a thriving city, most of the ruins of the city remain underground awaiting excavation.  Because of this you will not usually find many tourists at this site.  On an earlier visit to this site, a shepherd was grazing his sheep next to the ruins of the theater.  There are, however, many more ruins to view that when we were here in 2005.  There were no other sightseers at these ruins while we were there.


The city of Laodicea is mentioned in the Bible in only two books – Colossians and Revelation.  The Bible does not record anything about the founding of the church in Laodicea.  There are two other churches in the Lycus Valley, each within 8 miles of Laodicea.  That would be Colossae and Hierapolis.

Aerial view of ancient laodicea in Turkey 

Archaeological view of the ancient city of LaodiceaAt far right is an aerial view of Laodicea.   The main street was called Syrian Street.  They have uncovered about one-quarter mile at this time.  The archeologist say that there is another ¼ mile to the southeast yet to uncover. 

At left is an archeologist rendition of the city’s layout around the first century after Christ.  At the northwest end of what is now excavated, the street jogs left for 500 feet, then turns northwest for another ½ mile.  That street’s name is Ephesos In the map at left, both of the main streets are shown as green.

On the archaeological map, I point out a few places.


Panorama of ancient Laodicea marketplace

I mentioned earlier that when we were here in 2005, we saw a shepherd and his flock of sheep grazing between the two theaters.  I also mentioned that they have excavated much more than what was visible in 2005.  In 2005, I saw only the theater, and I took only two pictures here.   There was almost no excavation around the agora. And one wouldn't have known where Syrian Street was located.  The stone ruins of the Bath-Basilica would have been hardly visible. 


At right is a panorama of the agora using two photos I took.  You can see the ruins of the Bath-Basilica behind the agora.


The main street, called Syrian Street, in ancient LaodiceaSyrian Street in ancient LaodiceaStone cross - an indication of Christian presence in LaodiceaThe main street (Syrian Street) was bordered by columns as is show in the other two photos.  Ephesos Street probably was as well.  And the photo at left is indicating the presence of Christians in the city of Laodicea.


Biblical Significance


The three churches in this area most likely were not started by Paul.  So how did these churches get started.  Although not absolute, it is quite probable the churches began while Paul was in Ephesus.  I am speaking of his third missionary journey, when he spent about three years in Ephesus.


First, look at Paul’s early days in Ephesus during his 3rd missionary journey.  Paul arrives in Ephesus as recorded in Acts 19:1.  The first event is where he meets 12 men who had been baptized with John’s baptism in water, but they hadn’t yet been taught about the Holy Spirit.  Paul ministers to them, and they are filled with the Holy Spirit, and begin to speak in other tongues and prophecy (Verse 6).


In Verse 8, we are told that Paul follows his practice of going first to the Synagogue to preach Christ.  For three months he would go each week to the synagogue and preach about the kingdom of God.  After those three months, some among the Jews hardened their hearts to the gospel and spoke evil of Paul and those who had become Christians.


Let’s read Acts 19:9-10 NKJV


9       But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.

10     And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.


We don’t know much about this guy, Tyrannus.  His name means “the tyrant,” which has led some writers to ponder if this name was given by his students.  If not, he certainly drew an unfortunate name from his parents.


There are schools today around the world that are called the School of Tyrannus.  Here are some banners or icons from a number of internet sites for such schools.  For the next two years, Paul taught his disciples every day.  In Verse 9, we are told that, while in the school, Paul and his disciples discussed the gospel and the kingdom of God.  Also notice in the verse 10, that during these two years, all in Asia heard the Word of the Lord.


Some Study Bibles have margin notes implying that the school of Tyrannus was used by Paul from 11am to 4pm.  This would be in keeping with what we know about the normal daily work and school schedule of that society.  People would go to their jobs or attend school in the early mornings and late afternoons, and would take five hours off because of the very hot temperatures during mid-day.


This would also agree with Paul’s own work schedule.  We know from Acts 20:33-34, Paul probably had his own business in the Agora – the Marketplace.  But the shops would probably close up at 11am for a siesta.  At that time, Paul would immediately go to the school to continue training his disciples.  And he continued this schedule every day for two years.


It is probable that Tyrannus conducted his own classes in the early morning, and then, like other businesses, close his teaching at 11 a.m.  And quite probably, many of Paul’s students had jobs where they worked in the early morning, and then came to class with Paul after their jobs shut down for 5 hours.


In the school of Tyrannus, Paul is operating one of the very first seminaries (Bible school) of the Christian faith.  He is investing himself in the lives of his disciples.  In this manner, the gospel message was able to be multiplied.  I wish I could have been in that school room observing what Paul taught.  When I think about this, I can’t but ask myself: What am I passing on?


So, if Paul is teaching in the school everyday, when was there time for him to evangelize the gospel outside of Ephesus, so that every person in Asia – Jew and Gentile – had heard the Word of the Lord?  And when did Paul have time to begin all these other churches?


Could it be possible that his students began many of these churches?  Might it be that because of this great revival in Ephesus, people were coming to know Christ as their Lord, with many of them entering the school Paul was holding?


While that may be somewhat speculative, I think there is some evidence for this happing at least in some of the other 6 churches mentioned in Revelation, as well of many other churches throughout Asia.


If one man led 1,000 people to the Lord each year, in 35 years there would be 35,000 converts through his ministry.  However, if the same man only led just one person to the Lord every six months, then discipled those converts so that they could share their faith as he does, in ten years they and their disciples together would have 1,048,576 converts.  In fifteen years he would have evangelized over 1,000,000,000 people.  And in just over 17 years, they would have evangelized the present population of the entire world.


The process used by Paul is the most effective way to reach the greatest number of people with the gospel.  He trained others, by reproducing himself in them.  They, in turn, took the gospel wherever the Lord wanted them to go.  This methodology of Paul’s approach to spreading the gospel is today call the indigenous method.  This is where missionaries go to a foreign field, and train their converts to become ministers to their own people.


In my Bible reading yesterday, I was reading 2 Timothy, and I came across a passage in chapter two that tells us this was his method.  As I read, see if you can recognize that Paul was duplicating himself in Timothy, then telling him to do exactly that in others.


2 Timothy 2:1-2 NKJV


1.      You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

2       And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.


What Paul wanted Timothy to do was not some secret process.  He tells Timothy to remember what he heard when teaching many different people.  Timothy had accumulated much teaching from Paul as he travelled with him.  Paul instructs Timothy to take what he had learned and pass it on by discipling others in such a manner that they could then pass it on.


Simple map of Lycus Valley showing its three citiesIn Ephesus, Paul was a Jew, who taught both Jew and Greek to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to their own local population.


So, who may have started the churches in the three cities located in the Lycus Valley.  Those three cities are Laodicea, Colossae, and Hierapolis.  Let me also show this region to you in Google Earth.


The churches in these three cities were probably started by Epaphras, who was a resident of Colossae.  And Paul honors him and gave him his support.


Colossians 1:3-7 NKJV


3       We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,

4       since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints;

5       because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel,

6       which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth;

7       as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf,


This tells me that Paul and his band of assistants heard of the faith these saints had.  He wasn’t the one to bring them to the Lord.  He says they had learned from Epaphras, who was a faithful minister of Christ.  In the latter years of Paul’s life, Epaphras either accompanies him to Rome, or goes to visit him there.  Paul writes his 3 letters to the Ephesians, Colossians and Philippians while in prison in Rome.


Colossians 4:12-13 NKJV


12     Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.

13     For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis.


From these passages, it is believed by most Bible scholars that Epaphras probably began all three of these churches.  We are not told where Epaphras first met the apostle Paul.  It could have been at Paul’s school in Ephesus.


Now we turn to the other book of the Bible where Laodicea is mentioned.  This city and its church is also mentioned in the book of Revelation.  Of the 7 churches mentioned in Revelation 2 & 3, Laodicea is last.  The letter courier has made his rounds and has reached his final destination.  The city of Laodicea was located roughly 45 miles southeast of Philadelphia, and almost 100 miles directly east of Ephesus.


This letter to the Laodicean church contains our Lord’s harshest appraisal of all the 7 churches.  Unlike most, if not all the others, He offers no commendations to this church.


Aqueduct pipes at ancient LaodiceaIn Laodicea, you will also see the ruins of aqueducts and pipes.  These become images of the message given by Jesus through the apostle John in the Book of Revelation.  Laodicea had a problem – it lacked an adequate water supply source.  So they constructed aqueducts to bring water from two sources.  There were hot mineral springs about 6 miles north in Hierapolis.  These waters were used for their healing properties.  There were also icy cold waters from springs 8 miles to the southeast in Colossae.


The problem was this – the mineral hot spring water cooled in its journey of 6 miles, and by the time it arrived most of its valuable minerals had seeped out.  And the icy waters went through a similar fate over their 8 miles journey.  The cold water warmed up as it passed through the aqueduct and also reached the fountains in a lukewarm condition.


So when a visitor came to the city having traveled the hot plains, they would be seen taking a big gulp of water only to spit it out in disgust.  So this congregation would know precisely the meaning of Christ when He says:


15     I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. 

16     So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. 



The unexcavated tell of ancient ColossaeRockery that was part of ancient Colossae 

After visiting Laodicea, we are treated with some “candy.”  That means we visited a site not on the original itinerary.  Our guide, Seyhun, took us to where Colossae was located.  No excavation has taken place at Colossae.


We parked the bus at the northeast corner of the tell.  We walked to the top of the tell and were able to see a few indications of civilization.  And the rockery near the modern road is said to be part of the ancient city.

Honaz Turkey, the modern city of ancient Colossae 

The nearby city is Honaz – population about 25,000.  The tell of Colossae is about one mile from the city.  In the centuries before Christ, Colossae was a major trade center on the trade route from Sardis to Iconium.