Colonnaded street in Laodicea - Wikimedia Commons


Previous: Revelation 3:14


"I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. - Revelation 3:15

At this point, as in all His previous letters, Jesus tells them "I know your works." As always, good works are not a means of salvation because no one's good works are "good enough," (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; Romans 3:9-12, 23) and the wages of sin is spiritual death (Romans 6:23). Salvation is a gracious gift from God for those who place their faith in Jesus. It was purchased for us by His death on the cross (John 3:16; 1 Peter 1:17-21; Romans 5:8-10). Good works are a result of being in a right relationship with Christ (Ephesians 2:10; Titus 3:8).

Jesus described them as "neither cold nor hot." The sad thing is that the Laodiceans probably thought that they were pretty good Christians. Most of them were not cold-hearted, like atheists or pagans. On the other hand, they weren't "on-fire" for the Lord. Most of them were just middle-of-the-road "Christians," in name only: compromising in their own practices and tolerant of other people's beliefs. They did not see the need for separation from the world. They didn't have a hunger for God's Word, or a sincere love for the Lord Jesus.

In his commentary on The Revelation, Ray Stedman explained that this hot/cold imagery would make sense to the residents of Laodicea because they obtained their water from a hot spring in Hierapolis, about six miles away. It was carried by an aqueduct, and by the time it reached Laodicea it was no longer hot, but it wasn't cold either. Cold water is refreshing, and hot water is useful in many ways, but the tepid water was not appetizing. (Ray Stedman, God's Final Word, p. 99).

He added, "I could wish you were cold or hot." If they were totally indifferent to spiritual things, or even if they were quite hostile to Christianity, there would be more hope for them. They might then realize how wrong they were. But since they were "lukewarm," they thought they were normal.

Jesus warned against this kind of belief.

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' 23 And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'- Matthew 7:21-23

As a pastor, this was always my greatest concern. Were there people who attended faithfully and went through all the motions of being a good member of the congregation, but who had never really accepted Christ (John 1:12) and been "born again" (John 3:3)? I couldn't bear the thought that any of them would ever have to hear the Lord Jesus say, "I never knew you!" That would not mean that they had given up their faith, but that they had never even become God's children in the first place! How dreadful it will be for a person to think he was a Christian when he had never received the gift of eternal life.


So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'-and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked - Revelation 3:16-17

What Jesus said next is really shocking. He is loving and patient. Even when He rebuked the Ephesians for having lost their first love for Him, he had something good to say about them. But in this case, He said, "So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth."

That's harsh! But because He loved them so much, He spoke the way a worried parent or lover would respond to their careless attitude. Surely this would jolt some of them back to reality, and they would accept the life-saving advice He was going to give them.

The name of their city was significant in the light of this rebuke. Laodicea comes from two Greek words: laos, or "people," and dike, meaning "judgment," or "legal finding." Thus it is the judgment or the rule of the people. In a democracy that is a good thing, but in the Church it is a big mistake. In the churches that represented earlier phases of Church History, we saw that they were infiltrated by Nicolaitans. That name was descriptive of an ecclesiastical hierarchy in the church that "conquered" the people or ruled over them. We saw that this was the beginning of an official priesthood (see chapter 2, verses 6 and 15).

The Church at Laodicea fit this description, "rule of the people," because they had moved beyond what they must have considered the narrow teaching of God's Word, and beyond the controlling wishes of church leaders. The church had become a social club, designed to enhance the lifestyle of its members. It was, in essence the "people's church."

They had forgotten, or maybe they didn't even realize that Jesus said it was His Church! (Matthew 16:18).

Now, in case any of those who read or heard this letter was missing the point, Jesus added this wake-up call: "Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'-and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked-"

By the standards of this material world, most of the Laodiceans were prosperous. The city was a hub of commerce, an industrial center, and the financial core of their part of the world.

In His great "Sermon on the Mount," Jesus warned that riches could blind a person to their spiritual need.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, "Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."- Matthew 19:23-24

I will never forget one Sunday morning in the first church I pastored when one of our young men ran in to my study just before services began, and told me that his parents were attending for the very first time. We had been praying for their salvation, so my first reaction was, "Praise the Lord!" But before I finished saying it I realized that his folks, some of the wealthiest people in our community, would probably not understand why I was using that very text for my message! With grave concern for our new visitors, I delivered the message about how hard it is for a rich person to enter heaven. At the end of the message I gave an invitation to receive Christ, and could hardly believe it when my friend's mother stepped up to make that decision. A few months later his father made the same commitment. Fortunately, they could see their spiritual need in spite of their wealth.

The comfort of "the good life" causes many wealthy people to miss the even greater treasure of knowing Christ personally, and gaining eternal life. They don't even realize that from Jesus' point of view they own nothing of spiritual value.

He said that they were "wretched," a Greek word meaning "bearing callouses." This was the very opposite of privileged. He said they were "miserable," - the opposite of satisfied. They were "poor," - the opposite of rich. They were "blind," - the opposite of all-seeing/ all-knowing. And they were "naked," the opposite of prepared.

The good news is that Jesus doesn't leave the Laodiceans in a hopeless state. We will see that, even for them, there is salvation.

Next: Revelation 3:15-17 - Continued


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