Laodicea was located six miles from the city of Hierapolis, ten miles from the small town of Colosse, and about one hundred miles east of Ephesus. Christian churches existed in Hierapolis, Colosse and Laodicea by the date of Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome (Col. 4:13). He mentions in Colossians 4:15-16 that he had written a letter to the Laodicean church.
The city was noted for its activities, three of which Jesus alludes to in his letter to the church. The three were a thriving wool industry, a famous school of medicine particularly for eye problems, and a financial system. The city was so wealthy that when it suffered great damage because of an earthquake in AD 60, it did not need outside help from the Empire for rebuilding. It was self-sufficient, which was a good thing for the city, but it illustrates the problem with the church – it was also self-sufficient.
Jesus introduces himself as the ‘Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God’ (v. 14). We are used to saying amen in church services, mainly at the close of a prayer. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20 that one reason why believers should use amen is because of God’s promises centred in Jesus. The word is connected to truth and was used of God in the Old Testament (in Isaiah 65:16, where it is translated as God of truth). So Jesus reminds the church that he will speak the true words of God because he is God.
Jesus repeats this when he says that he is the faithful and true witness. A witness is someone who reports what he has seen. Because he is faithful and true, it means that what Jesus will say about them will be accurate. There will be nothing in his criticism of their church life that will be untrue. At the same time, he will tell them what they have to do in order to receive his approval.
Perhaps some might have responded to his criticisms by saying that they were powerless to change. If that did happen, they could be reminded that Jesus possesses divine power, and they could see that power in the creation that he brought into existence.
Depending on one’s personal state, this description would have been either a threat or a comfort. It was a threat because it indicated that Jesus could remove their lampstand and they would cease to be a church. Yet it was a comfort to know that he had the power to resolve the situation, should they repent. The same options always apply.