Revelation 3:15,16 - Neither Hot Nor Cold
"I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water I will spit you out of my mouth! You say, 'I am rich. I have everything I want. I don't need a thing!' You don't realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked." - Revelation 3:15-16 (NLT)
This is a verse you'll find on the home page of our main web site. This is also a good verse to help us see how understanding the historical background helps us understand the verse.
Jesus is speaking in these verses.
Jesus is telling the church in Laodicea two things. The first is that they are not "hot". We know from other scripture that we should be on fire for God. We should be spiritually hot. Apparently the people in the Laodicean church are not enthusiastic and bold for the Lord.
The second is that Jesus is telling the church in Laodicea that they are not cold. If we just read these words, it does not make sense. Nowhere does the Bible say we should be spiritually "cold". Why would he saying that to be cold is a good thing?
Why does Jesus say "I wish you were either one or the other!". Jesus wants them to be either hot or cold. I think we are missing part of the story.
We do not always know the background for a verse, but in this case the background is well known. Laodicea was located between two other cities. Seven miles north was Hierapolis, a city known for it therapeutic hot springs. Ten miles south was Colosse, a city known for its cold, refreshing spring water.
Laodicea did not have a water source within the city. Water came via a Roman aqueduct from a source three miles away. When the water arrived in Laodicea it was lukewarm. It was neither hot and therapeutic like the water in Hierapolis, nor was it cold and refreshing like the water in Colosse. The water was lukewarm and not pleasant to drink.
The hot water was useful because it was therapeutic. The cold water was useful because it was refreshing. What Jesus is saying is that like the lukewarm water in Laodicea, the Laodicea church is not useful, they do not have any beneficial characteristics. Because they are not beneficial to Jesus Christ, he is going to "spit you out of my mouth" (verse 3:16).
This understanding of what Jesus is saying fits with all of other scripture. It it did not fit with all other scripture, we'd know we had our interpretation wrong. Knowing the historical and geographical background has helped us to understand what is being said. In this case Jesus Christ is saying he wants us to be actively living our lives in obedience to him. We should be "doing" and not be living our lives in a "lukewarm" manner.