Rev. 3:15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot! 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth!
“As I see it, a lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron; there’s not such thing. To put it plainly, churchgoers who are “lukewarm” are not Christian.” (Chan, Crazy Love, p.83-84) I don’t know about you, I have a hard time going there with Francis. Why would Jesus suggest that those attending church in Laodicea will not get to heaven when those in Ephesus, who lost their first love, will? Even the image of “hot or cold” begs a few questions. Is one good and the other bad? One author agrees with Francis: “Here Jesus is saying something that no preacher would dare to say if the Lord had not spoken it first; namely, that ice-cold atheists and pagans are preferable to him than lukewarm Christians.” (Krodel, Revelation, p.142)
But what if something else was in mind here? Is it possible Jesus’ words refer to a historical fact regarding the area? To be sure, Jesus does find lukewarm Christianity nauseating but I wonder if more is in view?.
To the north of Laodicea was Hierapolis which had a natural hot spring, that was used for medicinal purposes. To the east was Colossae which had cold, refreshing, pure waters. In contrast to these towns, Laodicea had no permanent supply of good water. While they were able to pipe water from the nearby springs, it would arrive lukewarm and distasteful. I suspect, then, that the metaphor was not meant to relate spiritual fervor to temperature. If that were the case, the Laodiceans would be commended for being spiritually cold – but I doubt Jesus would commend that! Instead, the metaphor condemns Laodicea for not providing spiritual healing (being hot) or spiritual refreshment (being cold) to those around them. It is a condemnation of their lack of works and lack of witness.
It’s more likely they were not providing refreshment for the spiritually weary nor healing for the spiritually sick. Instead they were ineffective and thus distasteful to our Lord. (Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge, p. 119) And besides, why is lukewarmness worse than losing ones first love that Jesus would still allow entrance into his heaven those who love something else more than Him but not allow entrance those who are ‘lukewarm’?
Rather than asking if we are “in or out” of the faith based upon a list someone suggests represents what it means to be lukewarm, maybe we need to examine how we nurture an individualistic faith that makes little enough demands on us but instead undergirds our quest for self-sufficiency so that we too secretly say in our hearts, “I have need of nothing”.
Are there other clues in the text that Jesus words are not about keeping the lukewarm out of heaven?
Rev. 3:19 All those I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent! 20 Listen! I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his home and share a meal with him, and he with me.
Using the verb tense to translate verse 19, here’s what Jesus tells them (and us): “Keep on having passion (be ernest) and turn around now.” And how is this possible? “Behold” Jesus says, “I stand at the door and knock…” “Lukewarmness is fundamentally due to a fact about which we are usually unaware: we have excluded Jesus from one or more areas of life. That is why there is no healing or refreshing.” (Johnson, p.125) We don’t need to make room for Jesus in the closed off places of our heart, all we need do is give him access and he will come in to the mess and make himself at home. There is expulsive power in a new affection… But that’s for another discussion.