You're Not Lukewarm
In Revelation 3, we see that Jesus calls the church of Laodicea “lukewarm.” As we’ll see in this passage, there’s no such thing as a lukewarm Christian. To be lukewarm is to not be saved.
The church of Laodicea was between two cities, Hierapolis and Colossae. The hot waters of Hierapolis had a medicinal (hot tub) effect and the cold waters of Colossae were pure, drinkable, and had a life-giving effect.[i]Laodicea didn’t have a water source and had to get their water piped from surrounding springs. The problem is, once the water arrived in Laodicea, it was lukewarm and disgusting from the distance and the minerals in the pipe.[ii]Therefore, Laodicea became well known for its lukewarm and disgusting water.[iii]
Understanding that, we can conclude that this passage isn’t trying to get lukewarm Christians to get “on fire for God.” That’s why Jesus said, I wish you were cold or hot (3:15). This implies that being cold is good and being hot is good. Therefore, being lukewarm means not to be saved.
The church at Laodicea was lukewarm, which meant they were not good for anything. Spiritually they were dead! This view fits in context because we aren’t saved or accepted by whether we’re on fire for God. We’re saved and accepted by grace through faith. So if this passage is not about being on fire for God, what is it saying?
In verse 17, Jesus says that although they think they are rich and prosperous, in reality they’re wretched, poor, blind, and naked. The same thought is found in Matthew 23:27, when Jesus condemns the Pharisees by comparing them to whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside but dead inside.
Yes, these people in Laodicea are spoken of as a church, but they’re a church who profess Christ although not all believe in Christ. The church of Laodicea is filled with hypocritical Pharisees. This church is filled with self-righteous people who, like the Pharisees, trust not in Christ but in their own righteousness for salvation. In Revelation 3:18, Jesus asks them if He can anoint their eyes so that they can see. They are spiritually blind and cannot see their self-righteousness and hypocrisy.
How do I know Revelation 3:15‑16 is to non-believers? Verse 20 reads:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
We can see that they haven’t opened the door and let Christ into their lives. Those of us who’ve trusted Christ for salvation have opened up the door and let Him in. This passage is dealing with self-righteous people who are not saved. They claim they know Christ but haven’t trusted Him for salvation.
Jesus is warning this Pharisee-ridden church, that if they don’t open the door of their hearts and let Him in (salvation), that come judgment day, He will spit them out (reject them).
Out of His love, He is calling them to be zealous and repent (3:19), to change their mind about their present sinful course of action. We know God loves all and wants all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), which is why He’s warning this church and wanting them to turn to Him to be saved.
So this verse is not about struggling Christians. Instead, it’s about Jesus wanting these unbelieving Pharisees to come to repentance.
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[i]Beale, G. K. (1999). The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Eerdmans; Paternoster), 303.
[ii]J. F. Walvoord, Revelation,in J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, vol. 2, (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1985) 940.
[iii]P. Patterson, Revelation(E. R. Clendenen, Ed.)vol. 39 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2012).