by: FCC Staff
Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.
It is always a shame to see someone who should know better giving in to the pressure of evil. Whether it is our leaders, ourselves, our family, or children it is heartbreaking to see the struggle for righteousness lost. The author of proverbs likens it to a water source that has been fouled. Once it was a good, life bringing source of water; now it is useless, to be avoided.
Jesus too used an analogy of a water source that was troubled as he spoke to the church in Laodicea. But when we only chase the futuristic relevance of the book of Revelation rather than the reason John recorded it for his ancient audience, we miss Jesus' personalized message for his first century audience in Asia Minor.
In the popular passage of Revelation 3:15-16, Jesus says, “I wish you were cold or hot, but because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth.” Why does Jesus want people made of extreme temperatures, like hot or cold, or else he will discard them?
The common teaching created from Revelation 3:15-16 is that Jesus wants you to be for him or against him, but not sitting on the fence. In other words, you need to make a decision about where your loyalties lie. The assumption is made that "hot" and "cold" are metaphors for a passionate commitment to, or against, Jesus. That makes sense to us. "Hot" and "cold" are often used to represent feelings toward something.
But is that what people who lived in 1st Century Laodicea thought about "hot" and "cold"?
To understand Revelation 3:15-16, we have to understand John's audience (the same is true for understanding the meaning of any Bible passage). John recorded his visions in the book of Revelation as a message for seven communities in the Roman province of Asia (think present-day Western Turkey). The final is the church in Laodicea.
Laodicea was wealthy. Multiple industries fueled economic prosperity. After a major earthquake in 60 AD, Laodicea refused Nero’s offer to subsidize their rebuilding efforts. The Roman historian Tacitus writes: “Laodicea, one of the famous Asiatic cities, was laid in ruins by an earthquake but recovered by its own resources without assistance from ourselves.” (Annals 14:27)
The message from Jesus in Revelation 3:17-18 directly challenges Laodicea’s reliance on its wealth: “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 eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.” Do you see what Jesus is doing? Jesus essentially said every great thing in Laodicea is worthless since they valued worldly wealth rather than obeying the words of Jesus. He actually had what was truly valuable.
Jesus made a similar allusion to life in Laodicea when he talks about hot, cold, and lukewarm people. Laodicea piped water from the mountains to the south. After six miles in an aqueduct, the water arrived lukewarm with a gritty concentration of calcium carbonate. Colossae was tucked into the foot of Mount Honaz where cold mountain run-off water poured down to supply the city with fresh water. Hierapolis was positioned on magnificent hot springs that emitted mineral rich waters attracting visitors from all over Asia to its therapeutic baths.
All three cities lie around the Lycus river valley, but their water supplies distinguished them. Whereas Hierapolis had hot water beneficial for therapeutic purposes and Colossae had cold water for a refreshing drink, Laodicea’s piped water was best suited for the textile industry, or flushing the city’s plumbing system. If you ingested the water, it would function as an emetic, causing you to vomit.
Do you see how this local dynamic reveals the meaning of Jesus’ message to Laodicea? Jesus uses their water supply as a spiritual metaphor. “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 vomit you out of My mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16)
Colossae’s cold, fresh mountain water and Hierapolis’s medicinal hot springs outclassed Laodicea’s lukewarm water supply that made people vomit after drinking. Cold water and hot water sources had great personal value. Laodicea's lukewarm water had the same personal value that complacent members of the Laodicean church had to the cause of Christ. Not much.
Revelation 3:15-16 doesn't teach that Jesus prefers people to hate him or love him, just don't "sit on the fence." Jesus doesn't want anybody to hate him. Jesus isn't saying, "any decision is better than indecision." Jesus is telling us to serve a purpose. Hot water could heal. Cold water could refresh. We should bring a similar blessing to people around us. It is an exposition on our proverb for today, that when we, like the like the believers in Laodicea choose worldly things, we lose our focus and our usefulness in the kingdom. It’s a shame, but it’s preventable, if we maintain our focus on Christ, and not on worldly pursuits.
Prayer for Today:
Father help me to keep my focus on you and your kingdom today. Keep me from becoming polluted by the world, so that I may be a source of hope and life to those around me. By your Holy Spirit guard my mind, my heart, and my lips that I may not give way before the wicked. Help me to stay strong in you Jesus, until my work here on Earth is done. Amen.