English speakers owe the word "Laodicean" to Chapter 3, verses 15 and 16 of the Book of Revelation, in which the church of Laodicea is admonished for being "neither cold nor hot, . . . neither one nor the other, but just lukewarm" in its devotion. By 1633, the name of that tepid biblical church had become a general term for any half-hearted or irresolute follower of a religious faith. Since then, the word’s use has broadened to cover flimsy political devotion as well. For example, in comparing U.S. presidents, journalist Samuel Hopkins Adams compared "the fiery and aggressive [Theodore] Roosevelt" to "the timorous Laodicean [Warren] Harding."
Here is the passage that they reference:
'I know your deeds, 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 will spit you out of My mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16)
There is a common question that often arises from reading this passage: "Does Messiah really want us to be hot (i.e. "on fire" for Him) or cold (i.e. completely uncaring and opposed to Him?) What happened to G-d desiring that none should perish but all should come to repentance? What happened to "for G-d so loved the world"?
Why would G-d want us to be cold towards Him?
If we study the history and geography of Laodicea we discover that there is more to the story than we might think...
Hot and Cold Water
Laodicea was in the Lycus river valley near Colossae and Hierapolis. Unlike Laodicea, these two cities were both well known for their springs of water: cold at Colossae and hot at Hierapolis.
Colossae's water came from dozens of streams that were fed by melting snow on Mt. Cadmus that towered over the city. The snow remained on the mountain even into the middle of summer. Colossae was famous for cold, refreshing water.
Hierapolis' water came from the white cliffs near the city that was warmed by volcanic activity beneath the area. Hierapolis was known for their enormous, hot, healing baths. People came from hundreds of miles around to find cure of their ailments in the baths of Hierapolis.
Laodicea, on the other hand, had very poor water that was tepid and filled with minerals. The water pipes in the ruins of Laodicea still hold several inches of thick mineral deposits. Laodicea was, however, known for their three primary industries:
- the incredibly soft, black wool of its sheep that was used to make luxury garments
- its banking industry that provided a gold exchange
- and a salve that was used for healing eye and ear problems
These three industries made Laodicea a very wealthy city.
There is a story that tells of the great wealth of Laodicea. One time the entire town was destroyed by an earthquake and the emperor offered to rebuild the city. The citizens declined his offer because of their great wealth. "We have no need of your aid because we are wealthy", they said.
Consider the entire message given to the believers in Laodicea and how their industry and environment played a part in it:
"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: 'I know your deeds, 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 will spit you out of My mouth. 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, 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. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 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. 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. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'" (Revelation 3:14-22)
What is Messiah condemning? Their deeds! (verse 15)
He mentions that they are neither cold (and refreshing like the water in Colossae) or hot (and healing like the water in Hierapolis) but they are lukewarm (as was their water) so He will spit them out of His mouth. In this instance both hot and cold extremes are good. He is calling them to do good deeds born out of a heart overflowing with gratitude for the salvation and new life that He has purchased for them. What kinds of deeds? Perhaps the deeds He mentioned in His story of the coming judgment:
'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' (Matthew 25:35-36)
Messiah points out that they claim to be rich (and they were... by the world's standards) but they are poor (according to His standards). He says that they are miserable, poor, blind (although they have world-renown eye salve), and naked (although they have world-renown luxury clothing).
He tells them to buy gold from Him so that they may be rich.
He tells them to buy white garments from Him so that they will no longer be naked.
He tells them to buy eye salve from Him so that they might see.
He uses those things for which they are well known to condemn and correct them. Most interestingly, He says that they should buy "white garments". Revelation 19:8 says that His bride is clothed in fine linen, bright and clean; "for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints". He condemns them for their "lukewarm" deeds and says they need the fine linen only He can offer them: the deeds that come from a new heart and a new life in Him.
May we so live our lives in the world that they may see our good deeds and glorify our G-d and Savior (1 Peter 2:12).
May His name be praised!