In this series of blog posts, we have been diving into the seven letters from Jesus to the churches in Revelation chapters 2-3. As we do, we’ll discover what Jesus has to say to these churches that, with one exception, needed to be revitalized.
We come to the seventh and final letter. This is, perhaps, the most well-known and, at the same time, most misquoted of the seven letters.
The church at Laodicea is given no commendation. There’s no word of “this is what you’re doing well.” Instead Jesus, through John, jumps right into the serious matter at hand:
“I know your works, 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 am going to vomit you out of my mouth.” (3:15-16)
Perhaps you’ve heard this preached before and it went something like this, “Jesus is saying that he wishes the believers in Laodicea were either completely for Him or completely against Him. He hates that they are lukewarm.” That’s a powerful statement. Unfortunately, it’s wrong. Both cold and hot water serve good purposes. Cold water is refreshing. Hot water is good for relaxing and cleansing. Lukewarm water is just kind of bleh. It’s not really good for anything.
In their fantastic commentary on this passage, Kenneth Priest et. al. says, “Both hot and cold are doing something for the Lord; both have a purpose. They’re specific areas of ministry involvement in Christian service, and God has gifted us all differently.” ¹
However, they also write, “The danger for most of us is that in a lukewarm condition we miss opportunities for serving Christ. In a lukewarm condition we may be turning people away from the cross. When people see a lukewarm Christian, they think, “There’s nothing different in that person’s life than in my life. Why would I need Jesus?” ²
So, for this church, then, being lukewarm meant that they were not being effective in their proclamation of the gospel. They weren’t making an impact at all. What would the result be if nothing changed? Jesus says, “I am going to spew you out of my mouth.” This is probably similar to the warning He gave to Ephesus: “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” In other words, if they did not repent, they would cease to be a New Testament church of Jesus Christ.
He then continues and says, “You say, ‘I’m rich! I have become wealthy and need nothing.’” Laodicea had a prosperous trade business, which meant that many of its citizens probably had considerable wealth. But they didn’t realize they were spiritually “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” Jesus advises them to buy from him “gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich.” He alone could meet their great spiritual need.
Then He offers the church a wonderful invitation. You’ve probably heard Revelation 3:20 used in the context of inviting nonbelievers to trust in Jesus. The problem with that interpretation is that this passage is written to a church. It’s written to people who already claim to be believers. This is an invitation from Jesus to His people – His Church – to let Him back in.
Has your church forgotten Jesus? Have you become so engrossed in other things that, like Ephesus, you’ve lost for your love and, like Laodicea, you’ve become lukewarm? If so, there’s good news! Jesus is standing at the door, knocking. If you’ll let Him back in, He’ll restore His church and renew His people – “I will come in to him and eat with him and he with me.”
Jesus closes this letter with an encouragement: “To the one who conquers, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” The picture of sitting down is one of rest, having completed the work. So Jesus is saying that, to those who remain faithful, there is victory and rest coming.
So, pastor, don’t lose heart! Lead your church to follow after Jesus. That may require some repentance and returning on your part and on the part of your people. But the end result can be a church that is no longer lukewarm, but actively pursuing Christ Jesus and His plans!
¹ Priest, Kenneth W. et. al. Preaching for Church Revitalization, Volume 1 (Preaching Points Commentary Series). Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, p. 162.
² Ibid., 161.
Published September 29, 2021