In Revelation 3:14–21, the Lord is describing the “lukewarm” heart attitude of those in the Laodicean church, an attitude manifested by their deeds. The Laodiceans were neither cold nor hot in relation to God, just lukewarm. Hot water can cleanse and purify; cold water can refresh and enliven. But lukewarm water carries no similar value. The Laodiceans understood the Lord’s analogy because their city drinking water came over an aqueduct from a spring six miles to the south, and it arrived disgustingly lukewarm. Laodicean water was not hot like the nearby hot springs that people bathed in, nor was it refreshingly cold for drinking. It was lukewarm, good for nothing. In fact, it was nauseating, and that was the Lord’s response to the Laodiceans—they sickened Him, and He said, “I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (verse 16).
The letter to the church at Laodicea is the harshest of the seven letters to the churches in Asia Minor. By His indictment of their “deeds” (Revelation 3:15), Jesus makes it clear that this is a dead church. The members of this church see themselves as “rich” and self-sufficient, but the Lord sees them as “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (verse 17). Their lukewarm faith was hypocritical; their church was full of unconverted, pretend Christians.
Jesus frequently equates deeds with a person’s true spiritual state: “By their fruit you will recognize them,” and “Every good tree bears good fruit” (Matthew 7:16–17). Clearly, the lukewarm deeds of the Laodiceans were not in keeping with true salvation. The deeds of the true believer will be “hot” or “cold”—that is, they will benefit the world in some way and reflect the spiritual passion of a life transformed. Lukewarm deeds, however—those done without joy, without love, and without the fire of the Spirit—do harm to the watching world. The lukewarm are those who claim to know God but live as though He doesn’t exist. They may go to church and practice a form of religion, but their inner state is one of self-righteous complacency. They claim to be Christians, but their hearts are unchanged, and their hypocrisy is sickening to God.
The fact that the lukewarm individuals to whom Christ speaks are not saved is seen in the picture of Jesus standing outside of the church (Revelation 3:20). He has not yet been welcomed into their midst. In love, the Lord rebukes and disciplines them, commanding them to repent (verse 19). He sees their lukewarm attitudes as “shameful nakedness” that needs to be clothed in the white garments of true righteousness (verse 18). He urges them to be earnest, or zealous, and commit themselves totally to Him. Our Lord is gracious and long-suffering and gives the lukewarm time to repent.
The Laodiceans enjoyed material prosperity that, coupled with a semblance of true religion, led them to a false sense of security and independence (see Mark 10:23). The expression “I am rich; I have acquired wealth” (Revelation 3:17) stresses that the wealth attained came though self-exertion. Spiritually, they had great needs. A self-sufficient attitude and lukewarm faith are constant dangers when people live lives of ease and prosperity.