I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:14)
And so Jesus would prefer you were an atheist rather than a lukewarm Christian, right? Well not so fast! To jump to such a conclusion is to get the analogy from Jesus’ letter to the Christian community in Laodicea all mixed up. It is the water that is lukewarm. Hot water is good and really useful, and also happens to be in great supply at nearby Heiropolis. Cold water is good and useful, and also happens to be in good supply at nearby Colossae. But in Laodicea, the water was not plentiful. Attempts to get water to Laodicea in New Testament times only resulted in a lukewarm water supply. Jesus is not saying here that it is better to be red hot or ice cold rather than a lukewarm Christian. He is saying it is a terrible thing when Christians become useless.
So how does a Christian become useless? The answer to that is hidden in plain sight: “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking . . .” (Revelation 3:20) Jesus is kept standing outside! He is not welcome in this “Christian” community at Laodicea. We become useless to Jesus when we shut him out:
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)
The letter to Laodicea goes on to tell us in what ways we can keep Jesus shut outside. The letter begins this way:
And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation.” (Revelation 3:14)
Jesus describes himself as the “Amen.” He is the One with the last word. He can be counted on. Further he is “the faithful and true witness.” So if you want to know God the Father, get to know Jesus: “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:7) Jesus is also “the origin of God’s creation.” His involvement in Creation speaks to His divinity. Jesus is not just a son of God, He is God the Son. When we think of Jesus as less than these things, then we push him toward the door. Jesus is kept outside when we misunderstand who He really is.
There is another reason Jesus is kept outside at Laodicea: “For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’” (Revelation 3:17) Laodicea was known as a wealthy city, so wealthy in fact that it refused help from Rome when rebuilding following an earthquake in AD 60. However, wealth is not actually the problem here. The problem is the attitude. For the citizens of Laodicea to refuse help from Rome is one thing. For citizens of heaven to claim no need of help from Jesus is quite another. Jesus goes on to set the record straight:
You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. (Revelation 3:17,18)
Laodicea was known for its wealth, its clothing industry, and its medicines, especially eye slave. The Christians in Laodicea, however, ought to be known for their need of, and intimacy with, Christ.
Idolatry is a theme running throughout the letters to the churches of Revelation. There is the idolatry of power; Roman power. The pressure to bow the knee to Roman power was intense. There is the idolatry of sexuality; Roman thinking on sexuality. The pressure to bow the knee to the Roman status quo was intense. There is the idolatry of religion; Jewish religion. The pressure to bow the knee to a particular way of seeing things was intense. But here in Laodicea we come up against perhaps the most powerful idolatry of all. It is found in that expression; “I have no need.” This is the idolatry of self. We force Jesus outside when we ascend the throne. We cannot bow the knee, or be of any use to Jesus if we are “all that.”
There is good news for the Christians in Laodicea, and good news for us:
I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. 20 Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking . . . (Revelation 3:19,20)
The Christians in Laodicea make Jesus want to vomit. This is the more literal rendering of “spit you out.” But he keeps on standing at, and knocking on, the door anyway. They misunderstand him. He keeps on standing at, and knocking on, the door anyway. They think they have no need of him. He keeps on standing at, and knocking on, the door anyway. Perhaps you make Jesus want to vomit? It turns out that you cannot ruin his appetite:
Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. (Revelation 3:20)
Perhaps Someone is knocking on your door right now?
All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV