Revelation is written to seven churches in Asia Minor (Revelation 1:4). The church at Laodicea is the last of the churches to be addressed and is judged for its poor witness and spiritual condition and called to repentance (Revelation 3:14-22). Laodicea is famously criticized for being lukewarm, neither hot nor cold:
‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.’ (Revelation 3:15-16 NASB)The Laodicean church was spiritually complacent as they were economically prosperous. The Laodiceans used their advantageous position on a trade route to promote their profitable garment industry. The Laodiceans were known for producing a black wool with a soft silky texture found only in the Lycus Valley. As such, it is significant that Christ implored the Laodiceans to purchase white garments of purity, as opposed to the black for which they were known (Revelation 3:18). The strong language of vomiting them out is used to arouse them from their spiritual slumber (Revelation 3:16).
The use of “lukewarm” has been traditionally interpreted as a critique of the Ladocieans’ lack of spiritual fervor.
What do you think is meant by “lukewarm” in this context? Does the passage support extremism in either direction over moderation? Is sinfulness preferable to apathy?
The traditional interpretation is problematic as God finds being both hot and cold preferable to being lukewarm (Revelation 3:15-16). This reading presents Christ as commending disloyalty.
Scholars have long conjectured that the metaphor of tepid water was drawn from the city’s own water supply. The Laodiceans’ lukewarm water stood in stark contrast to their nearby neighbors. Hierapolis was known for its hot springs and Colossae, where the Laodiceans’ sister church was located (Colossians 2:1, 4:13, 15, 16), featured pure water. Gregory K. Beale (b. 1949) explains, “There is evidence that Laodicea had access only to warm water, which was not very palatable and caused nausea (Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 303)”. To correct this problem, the Laodiceans constructed an aqueduct to a hot springs five miles to the south. The water would have become tepid by the time it reached the city. Like their drinking water, Christ wished to spit it out (Revelation 3:16). Taking this interpretation, hot and cold water would be equally beneficial, as opposed to hot equating with good and cold corresponding to bad. Lukewarm water, in contrast, was useless.
Where would you rate your spiritual condition in relation to being lukewarm?