Thursday, 15 October 2020
“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. Revelation 3:15
Here, the Lord is using an analogy of what would be completely understandable to the people in the church of Laodicea. From his commentary on the book of Revelation, Jack Kelly says the following –
“The church in Laodicea receives no commendation, only this criticism, rich in symbolic sarcasm. Laodicea got its water from nearby Heiropolis, a hot spring resort that still flourishes today, now called Pamukkale. The water came across the valley in an open aqueduct. Having begun its journey fresh from the hot springs, it was luke warm by the time it arrived. Too cool to be used for cleaning or bathing, and too warm to be refreshing, it was unfit for use until it could be either heated up or cooled down. The fire of the Spirit had gone from the Church in Laodicea leaving its members engaged in “form without substance” ritual. Not that they minded. They were happy as clams with their no commitment, no responsibility religion. So it is in much of the emergent church today. They look like a church and do some things that a church does, but you won’t detect the power of the Holy Spirit there and the gospel of our salvation is only obvious by its absence. Even though their congregations are often large and well financed, their spiritual condition is one of poverty.”
Understanding this typology, the Lord begins with, “I know your works.” He again repeats what He has stated to all six of the previous churches. Like an attentive administrator in a company, or like the observant general among his troops, so is Christ among His churches. He walks among the lampstands and observes all that occurs among His people. In the case of Laodicea, He says, “that you are neither cold nor hot.”
Like the lukewarm water that flowed into their city, they were not on fire for the Lord, nor were they completely dead to the things of religion as if living their lives like the somnambulant masses. Instead, they were in a state of tepidity, unable to find footing in what is right concerning the faith, or what is wrong in a complete rejection of the faith. Because of this, the Lord next says, “I could wish you were cold or hot.”
The words here, at first, seem contradictory to what one might expect. It is true that the Lord would want His people to be hot – on fire for Him and for the sharing of His gospel. But why would he wish they were cold? The answer is well explained by the scholar Alford –
“This as well as the opposite state of spiritual fervor, would be an intelligible and plainly-marked condition; at all events free from the danger of mixed motive and disregarded principle which belongs to the lukewarm state: inasmuch as a man in earnest, be he right or wrong, is ever a better man than one professing what he does not feel.”
In other words, the Lord looks to judgment upon those who reject Him outright as less burdensome than pronouncing judgment upon those who claim to know Him and yet have no heart for Him. It gives the sense of, “If only they realized the horrors which await them, even they who claim to know Me.” His remark then is not because the burden is greater upon Him, but because it is greater upon them. He could wish that it would not be so.
And the same is true with those who are, in fact, saved but who are only warm in their pursuit of Him. They (the saved but lukewarm) will stand before Him at the Bema Seat and expect great rewards because of their wealth and secure state in this life. And yet, they will find that they will receive nothing of honor or reward. It too will be burdensome upon them. Their hearts will surely say, “Oh! How I squandered my years that could have been spent reaching others for the cause of this glorious God before whom I now stand.”
The word translated as “hot” is zestos. One can see the etymological root of the word zest in it. When something is zesty, it is spicy and even hot – such as with chili peppers added into a meal. In the case of the word zestos, it signifies “boiling hot,” coming from the word zeó. It is an onomatopoetic expression where the sound of the word reflects what is happening. As water boils, it bubbles – zeó, zeó, zeó, or as we would say today, “bubble, bubble, bubble.” The Lord would wish this for them.
The word translated as “cold” is psuchros. It is found only in Matthew 10:42 and then three times here in Revelation 3. In the use of Matthew 10, it is referring to the giving of a cup of cold water to a child. This would be to refresh him. Thus, the analogy by Alford (above) could be incorrect, and the Lord could be saying that He wishes the people were refreshing to those around them. However, the word is ultimately derived from the verb psuchó, which is found only in Matthew 24:12. There, it speaks of the love of most growing cold. This may be the sense that is given by the Lord at this time. Being dogmatic on this, however, might not be the best case. Being cold, as in “refreshing,” may be what is intended. Either way, the Lord finds the lukewarm state of Laodicea intolerable.
Life application: As noted above, Jesus starts His condemnation with a metaphor that they would be completely aware of. Two other cities were nearby to Laodicea. The first was Hierapolis, a city with hot springs that would have been a tourist attraction. They would use the water for health spas and in other relaxing ways. The other city was Colossae (also known as Barclay) which was renowned for its pure cool water. Archaeological finds show that there was an aqueduct that carried the water from the hot mineral springs to Laodicea which was about 5 miles away. By the time this water got there, it would have been tepid. It also would have been hard water.
As you can see, the picture here is that just as the water they had was blah and unpalatable, so were the people in the congregation. Hot water has its usefulness and cold does too, but the tepid water was comparatively disgusting. This is exactly how Jesus saw the church in Laodicea – disgusting.
This is a lesson and a warning to all of us. Jesus wishes for us to be either hot or cold. Those who are on fire for Him will receive a great reward and those who are cold will receive their just condemnation. On the other hand, those who are regenerated by the Spirit, but who are unwilling to act like it, are a hindrance to the cause of Christ. Their lives in Christ are wasted and there will be no reward for works. What a waste of the victory Jesus wrought on their behalf!
Lord, we often get lukewarm about our Christian lives and we know this is displeasing to You. Please rekindle the spark in our souls and bring us back to the place we should be…burning with the fire of the Spirit and bringing great honor and glory to You. We pray this so that You will be praised among the people that we interact with. Amen.