Lukewarm – Neither Cold Nor Hot (rev. 3:15-21)

15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.

The city of Laodicea was located between the cities of Hierapolis and Colossae. Both of these cities were known for the pure waters that flowed through them. Hierapolis had a hot spring that was considered to be medicinal. Colossae was known for its cold, refreshing mountain springs. Laodicea, on the other hand, had a bad reputation when it came to water. It was renowned for its dirty, lukewarm water, which visitors almost immediately spat out after tasting. In light of this, we can see that both “hot” and “cold” were considered to be good, while the dirty lukewarm of Laodicea was of no benefit.

17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.

A careful reading of Jesus’ admonition reveals that this particular assembly had become focused on riches and wealth, with pride and spiritual complacency being the result. Jesus called this assembly of his followers to repentance and faith. They had sold out to this world and were so sure of themselves because they did not realize the true state of things. They were not rich; they were poor. They were not well-dressed, but naked. They were not self-sufficient, but they were truly needy. They thought they had access to one of the best health centers in the Roman Empire, but in reality, they were completely blind. They had invested their valuables in the wrong bank. What is important to realize is that this letter is really no different from the six letters to the other assemblies. The challenge for us is to see that the kind of wealth and comfort mentioned here could have only been achieved if their full participation in pagan Roman society is presumed. Jesus’ reproof is not to be taken as heartless, harsh treatment. It is precisely because these people had Christ’s redemptive love and commitment that they were challenged to repent and change their ways.
20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.

Israel’s King is willing to have real table fellowship with his followers. However, because he is holy, no compromise or contamination with defilement is allowed. This is clearly stated in the Israelite Scriptures. We read in Leviticus 18:24 “Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled.” The Nicolaitans of Pergamum and Ephesus – those who claimed “we-will-eat” (see the previous discussion on Nicolaitans as Hebraism in Revelation 2:6) – were willing to engage in unqualified and totally unrestricted fellowship with Roman paganism which was forbidden by the Jerusalem council in Acts 15.

Many Laodicean followers of the Jewish Christ also apparently fell prey to Nicolaitan teachings although they are not explicitly identified with them as were the others. Jesus, by calling them to repentance, offered them the greatest possible incentive – the personal right to table fellowship with Jesus Christ himself. Fellowship with Israel’s God must remain pure. Nothing has changed. The Holy is still holy.

21 He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

There is no doubt that the commitment to refrain from the defilement of the lifestyle prevalent in the Roman Empire was extremely difficult, especially, when non-Jews’ full joining the people of Israel following Jesus was severally discouraged, if not forbidden in the Roman Empire. We read in 1 Cor. 7:17: “Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches.” Gentile followers of the Jewish Christ were encouraged to join the Jewish coalition as sojourners with Israel; that is not as Jews, but as the Nations. In so doing, according to Paul, they would take part in establishing the Torah. Paul supported the declaration, made at the Jerusalem council, for both Jews and the Nations to worship the LORD God on equal footing. We read what Apostle Paul, the only Pharisee whose writings to the non-Jewish followers of Jesus survive, says about this in Romans 3:28-31:

“For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Torah. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. Do we then nullify the Torah through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Torah.”

This means that for gentile followers of Jesus there were not many options. They could either join Jewish people through proselyte conversion (which was forbidden) or they could conform to the rules and practices of pagan Rome which, although condemned, was nonetheless chosen by many. A third and the most difficult option was to learn how to live holy and righteous lives as the nations in the Roman world, while worshiping the same God as Jews but through Jesus – his anointed King. It was not easy. In fact, it was extraordinarily difficult. This is why the rewards offered are so incredibly great.

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  1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

    Always welcome. The good book challenges us all.

  2. jane z. mazzola

    I appreciate the spiritual challenges for the gentile followers of Jesus in this part of the Roman world by Dr. Eli & also, the additional historical-cultural-geographical “auxiliary information” provided by the person, “Disciple of Jesus”. Thank you.

  3. Jerry Akinwe

    Thank you Dr Eli for the useful exposition. I have gained a lot from this write up and the comments that has followed. Looking at what Jesus told the Church at Laodicea, it seems to me that the groups represented by the cold and the hot are those who have gone in fully into Christ. The lukewarm on the other hand are those that remains in the mouth and not yet taken in. They refuse to go in as they seem to still be having interest in the outside world. So Jesus said: “I am about to spew you out of my mouth”. The lukewarm are those who have put their hands onto the plough and yet they look back at the world behind. Jesus said, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Good metaphors. Glad you decided to reflect in writing.

  4. Scott Graydon

    I think this touches on one of the most difficult aspects of being a Christian – to what extent do we engage with the world? I think complete withdrawal from the world has many potential risks in and of itself, as with so many things, it is a question of balance, but finding that correct balance is indeed extremely difficult, I know not the answer to this.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Two key factors – priority and motivation. The balance in my opinion can be found by being clear on what is a priority and what is not. Motivation drives our actions in this world. Examine our motivation for doing things (honestly) and we will discover if we are in bed with this world too much 🙂 I agree disengaging from the word is not the way. At least that is not what Jesus taught. It is much harder to be faithful and remain a part of the broken system.

  5. Christine

    thank you so much for all your wonderful explanations and insights in these postings. they offer much deeper understanding as Root and Branch come together as One with our Might King Yeshua leading the Way.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      You are welcome. Lets keep learning together.

  6. Disciple of Jesus

    “In light of this, we can see that both “hot” and “cold” were considered to be good, while the dirty lukewarm of Laodicea was of no benefit.”

    I disagree partially that being cold is seen as a ‘good’ thing in this case of the Laodicean lukewarm church, rather than be a good thing, being ‘cold’ is better (not good) than being lukewarm. Why would Jesus prefer a state of utter coldness – a state where there was no profession of real agape? Here are some thoughts that come to mind;

    A. Such a state of open and professed coldness or indifference is more honest though it may be cold. There is no disguise or concealment or any pretence to hide intentions. We know where one in this state “may be found”; we know with whom we are dealing with and thus we will know what to expect. As sad an undesirable the state is, it is at least honest and upfront; thus being born again in Jesus, we all prefer such a character to one where professions are made which are never to be realized or actioned – to a state of sheer insincerity and blinded hypocrisy.

    B. Contrary to worldly ways, such a state is more honorable in a certain regard. It is a more elevated condition of mind though it may not be friendly to the born again believer’s mindset, and marks a higher character. Of a man who is false to his engagements, who makes professions & promises never to be realized but simply to be mentioned, we can make nothing, such is worthless. There is essential meanness in such a character, and there is nothing in it which we can respect. But in the character of the man who is openly and avowedly opposed to anything; who takes his stand, and is earnest and zealous in his course, though it be wrong, there are traits which may be, under a better direction, elements of true greatness and magnanimity. In the character of Saul of Tarsus there were always the elements of true greatness; in that of Judas Iscariot there were never. The one was capable of becoming one of the noblest men that has ever lived on the earth; the other, even under the private teaching of the Redeemer for years, was nothing but a traitor – a man of essential meanness.

    As you mentioned, the water supply for Laodicea came from a distance of six miles at Hierapolis via an aqueduct. Its sources were hot water springs laden with calcium carbonate; when the water arrived in Laodicea, it was lukewarm. Although these hot springs themselves had medicinal value and as health spas attracted the people, Jesus compares the tepid waters near the city to the lukewarm spiritual life of the Laodiceans. The church at Laodicea was neither cold nor hot. It was sickeningly lukewarm. The Lord would have preferred it to have been extreme in its indifference or its zeal. But no—it was putrid lukewarm enough to deceive people into thinking that it was a church of God, and so uncaringly lukewarm about divine things as to nauseate the Most High to the point of vomiting them out. Furthermore, the church was characterized by pride, ignorance, self-sufficiency, and complacency. Further there is no word of commendation was extended to the Laodicean church. They were pictured as utterly abhorrent to the Christ because they were clearly lukewarm. This was addressed to the church and also to the messenger or the pastor whom some are persuaded to believe was Archippus (Col 4:17). It is seemingly improbable, however, that Archippus, if he had been the pastor of the church, was still living. In referring to the church as “lukewarm”, the Christ had in mind that this was its permanent situation intimated by the language. In their feasts as well as in their sacred sacrifices people in the ancient world customarily drank what was either hot or cold — never lukewarm.

    “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot.” This term works appears in the other letters too (Rev 2:2, Rev 2:19; Rev 3:1, Rev 3:8). Here it means exactly the same thing as in the letter to the church in Sardis (v. Rev 3:1): incomplete deeds that are not even worth mentioning. Jesus knew the works of both Sardis and Laodicea and for these two churches he had only sharp reproof. They were no longer active and alive: the few faithful in Sardis were like glowing embers amid a layer of ash; those in Laodicea were like their water supply—neither cold nor hot. If the Laodiceans had never heard the Gospel, they would have been cold in a spiritual sense. We assume that the first-generation born again saints in Laodicea accepted the Gospel and were glowing with a spiritual fire and enthusiasm. But their descendants were tepid. They had no interest in being a witness for Jesus the Christ, in living a life of service for the Lord, or in preaching and teaching his Gospel for the advancement of His church and kingdom. Although they possessed the Scriptures, they were lazy, apathetic, and unconcerned about the things of the Lord (compare Heb 4:2; Heb 6:4). It is no wonder that Jesus said, “I know your works,” with the implication that there were none.

    “So because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” The hot springs at a distance of six miles near Hierapolis sent water of medicinal quality down to Laodicea as mentioned. By the time the water arrived there, it had cooled considerably, and because of the calcium carbonate in the water, it had a nauseating effect on the people who drank it. By contrast, Colosse, eleven miles away, was blessed with springs producing refreshing water that was cold and pure. The Christ has no interest at all in lukewarm disciples, because it is worthless. He prefers to work either with people who are aflame with His Spirit who’ve accepted Him as their only Saviour and God and freely willingly do His will or those who have never been told about the message of salvation and are willing to listen. Lukewarm water laced with calcium carbonate induces vomiting. Similarly nominal believers void of spiritual works are utterly distasteful to the Lord, and he is about to vomit them out of his mouth. Note that Jesus does not say, “I will spew you out of my mouth,” but rather, “I am about to spew you out of my mouth.” Here is the grace of the Lord Jesus as he is giving the Laodiceans time to repent after they have read his letter. This epistle is meant to change the recipients’ lukewarm attitude into an eagerness to work for the Lord, for grace always precedes condemnation (see v. Rev3:19). The church in Laodicea had not become indifferent because worldly interests had iced its proper fervour, but it had become fruitless because, believing they were spiritually well-equipped, its members had closed their doors and left their real Provider outside. They had excluded the Christ (compare v. Rev3:20) and thought they could do without him. By doing so they had become utterly ineffective as a church. Without the Christ the church is dead.

    Some Auxiliary information regarding the city of Laodicea;

    Laodicea — The City: Laodicea was located some forty-three miles to the southeast of Philadelphia, eleven miles west of Colosse and six miles south of Hierapolis (Col_4:13) in the Lycus valley. It served as the gateway to Ephesus, due east about a hundred miles, which was the gateway to Syria. Until the middle of the third century before the Christ, it was known as Diospolis (the city of Zeus) and Rhoas. But in approximately 250 B.C. the Syrian ruler Antiochus II extended his influence westward, conquered the city, and renamed it Laodicea in honor of his wife Laodice. The Romans entered the area in 133 B.C. and made the city a judicial and administrative center. They built a road system from east to west and north to south. At the crossroads was the city of Laodicea, which expanded in size, became a leading commercial center, and gained wealth and influence. Its wool industry flourished through the production and export of black wool, the manufacturing of common and costly garments, and the invention of an effective eye salve. It had a flourishing medical school that specialized in ear and eye care and had developed an ointment for treating inflamed eyes. Because of this ointment, the school became world famous. A devastating earthquake struck Laodicea in A.D. 17, and, like other cities in the province of Asia, it received financial aid from the Roman government. In A.D. 60 a second earthquake struck the city, and the Roman government offered financial aid to rebuild the city. But the city fathers sent the government a negative reply and made it known that they themselves had ample resources for reconstruction. In fact, they even contributed to the rebuilding of neighboring cities. Antiochus the Great (also known as Antiochus III) brought some two thousand Israelite families from Babylon to Lydia and Phrygia during the middle of the third century B.C. The city of Laodicea, which bordered these two regions, became host to many of these families and prospered. When in 62 B.C. the Israelite wanted to pay their annual tax for the upkeep of the temple in Jerusalem, their shipment of gold was confiscated by Roman Proconsul Flaccus. Part of this shipment was from Laodicea and weighed more than twenty pounds. “It has been calculated that the amount from Laodicea would imply a population of 7,500 adult Israelite freemen in the district.” The letter to the church at Laodicea reveals nothing about a Israelite presence. Neither did the Laodicean believers have to endure any persecution from the Gentile population, nor were there any false prophets, including the Nicolaitans, a Balaam, or a Jezebel, in the church. The temple for the worship of Caesar occupied a central place in the city of Laodicea. The church accommodated itself to other religions, basked in material wealth, was content to live a life of ease, and failed to press the claims of the Christ. Consequently, Jesus has no word of praise nor commendation for this church and similar churches that fail to proclaim his message of repentance and salvation.

    1. Jerry S.

      I’m open for debate, so please correct me if I’m wrong here, but it seems you’re viewing history from a 21st century western pov. There would have been no “church” or christians for that matter, as we have come to understand the words today in Laodicea at the time of this writing.

      1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

        Yes, Jerry S., The church is purely a conceptual idea at this point. Those assemblies did not think of themselves that way, of course, since “church” represents a later historical development of “Christianity”.

    2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Wow, this comment is longer then my entire post! Not sure how and which part to respond to. 🙂 If you seek dialogue, the comment system is conducive to that.

  7. Steve Riley

    Professor Eli,
    Would you be so kind enough to explain the analogy of the ‘hot and cold’ condition and its application to our lives, which is preferred by Jesus as opposed to the ‘lukewarm’ condition?
    Thank you

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      In my opinion either is preferred. Its like Yes, No and Maybe. I prefer Yes or No answers. I may not like it, but at least I know where you stand. Maybe is vague and does not commit to either.

  8. Siegfried Merkert

    Hallo Dr Eysenberg.
    You Surely know the meaning of your Name: Mountain of Iron.
    I like your comments of the Bibel very much.
    In the meantime you Can rely on me.
    Yours sincerely s.merkert.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg


  9. Don

    Why do some people use the synthesized name “jesus” when Messiah’s name clearly was “Yeshua?”

    Todah rabah!

    1. Lyuben

      A very interesting question, Don! I have discussed this issue with some Jews, some of them Rabbis, approaching it from Bible code aspect. I also believed that Yeshua is the right Name of the Lord – according to the historical evidence of this Person UP TO THE TIME OF HIS RESURRECTION. However, I was surprised to find that the Jews “invented” later the name YESHU, having dropped out the final letter ayin. With this name He is known in all Jewsih documents written ever since. Some believe that this is an act of derogation. Moreover, as far as I am aware, YESHUA is not used today as a male name among Jews, being substituted with YEHOSHUA. Indeed, some modern dictionaries (Super Milon) match YESHUA – Yud-Shin-Vav-Ayin – to JESUIT and HYPOCRITE; other do not relate it to Jesus (Morfix and Reverso).
      Be it as it may, however, by shortening His Name to YESHU (Yud-Shin-Vav), Jews provided the uniqueness of His Name – a parameter of paramount importance for Bible code studies. ALL dictionaries match YESHU to Jesus (and Jesus only!); some give also Christ.
      I would like to share with you and the interested readers a very intriguing correlation between the current Jewish year, 5776 = התשעו, on one hand, and the expression

      מלך ישו הוא המשיח

      on the other:

      The numerical value of the year 5776 is ה = 5; ת = 400; ש = 300; ע = 70 and ו = 6, in total, 781
      And the numerical value of the above expression is also 781!
      I have written an article on this code an others related to the subject. I would send them to you through Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg in case you are interested.

    2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Don, Jesus’s name is not synthesized, but transliterated and adapted to non Hebrew phonology, to be more precise. As to your question “why” – the answer is simple – the same reason we say “Thank you” in English and not “Todah Rabba” borrowing from Hebrew. Though I do appreciate the friendly intent of people speaking Hebrew to me… English is English and Hebrew is Hebrew. If I wanted to speak Hebrew I would speak Hebrew. That would immediately exclude many readers of this blog, because they will not be able to understand. But if I am choosing to speak English, then why not just speak English all the way? And that is what Jesus is – an English language equivalent of Hebrew Yeshua. No mystery, no ill intent, just normative consistent practice of common English. 🙂

  10. yetilived

    I think I am on the same page, but my language is very different so I will focus on the word water. How can water be associated with repentance/sacrifice (Hebrews 6:6) rather than 2nd law/rest/Sabbath? The rich Jewish man in Luke16 seemed to understand “a drop of water”. What do the keys to death and hades (emtombed not hell) have to do with a drop of water? The Discourse on the Greek (V,1) said Hades is a world not finished. This makes me think that a drop of water must be a heavenly gift/messenger/revelation. The drop of water from the 7 spirits would be good, but I don’t know if it can be spat out. Spiritual complacency? This is different than a “spring of water welling up to eternal life”. The reason I think it is important to understand water within this article is because the “sinner” model of evangelism +replacement theology considered me saved because I knew I was a sinner. I knew I was a sinner because of a drop of water. On top of that I did not follow Christ because I had received the white stone (it was the Sabbath and I knew not to labor –Romans 7) Lukewarm? Unfinished? Jesus did finish what he had begun in me. I documented me getting the “spring of water welling up to eternal life” in my own words. The voice of wisdom (Rev 21:8) handed me a key (the white stone/ tablets of the covenant law) so I asked the Helper to help me (Romans 8). After I unlocked the door of truth I was astonished to discover that the walls I had built for security had entombed me. I will pay closer attention to how the word water is described. Shouldn’t somebody retell the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus? 🙂