By Brannon Howse
The Scripture: I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot.
The Twist: Those who take this verse out of context often claim that “God would rather that you be cold.” But what does mean if you are neither cold nor hot?
A correct understanding of Twisted Scripture Number 4 also reinforces our understanding of why Twisted Scripture Number 3 is out of context when it’s used as a salvation verse for receiving Christ. Cold is a description of someone who rejects Christ. Does God desire that someone reject Him? No, He doesn’t want anyone to reject Him at all, does He?
Second Peter 3:9 clarifies this:
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
Similarly, 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that the Lord is patient. He is delaying His second coming so more people might come to Christ. Yet “cold” is someone who rejects Christ.
We further see God’s attitude toward the unsaved in Ezekiel 18:23: “‘Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?’ says the Lord God, ‘and not that he should turn from his ways and live?’” God takes no joy in the destruction of the wicked. Jesus, holding out His hand to His opponents in John 5:40, says to the Jewish leaders, “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.”
So, does God desire that anyone reject Him? No. Yet that’s the implication when someone says, “Well, God would rather that you be cold than lukewarm.” God doesn’t desire anyone to be cold.
In the passage which includes Revelation 3:15, Jesus is speaking about the false church of Laodicea, as I’ve explained. After speaking of cold and hot water, He goes on to say, “And then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”
Why is he using these adjectives of cold, hot, and lukewarm water? In Laodicea, that’s what they had, lukewarm water. Their water traveled miles underground through an aqueduct, and by the time it reached the city, it had become lukewarm. People who were visiting and were not ready for it would drink the water and spit it out because it was lukewarm.
There were other cities nearby, like Hierapolis and Colossae, with different hydrologic attributes. Hierapolis had hot water and was famous for its hot springs, while Colossae was famous for cold springs. Cold water is certainly refreshing on a hot day, isn’t it? And hot water is also beneficial in that, if your body is aching, hot water can loosen your muscles and help soothe the aches and pains. Cold water has a good purpose; hot water has a good purpose. But lukewarm water really doesn’t have much of a purpose, and when people drink lukewarm water, they usually spit it out. That’s what happened in Laodicea.
These metaphors would have been especially meaningful to the Laodicean church. Cold is someone who openly rejects Christ. Lukewarm is someone who claims to be a Christian but is not. The person is a false convert, much like the Pharisees. They’re not really following the Lord. Then hot, of course, is someone who is on fire for Christ, someone who is a true believer.
Jesus uses other adjectives in this passage that the folks would also grasp—such as “poor, blind, and naked.” Why does He choose these particular words? Because Laodicea was known for banking and great wealth. It was known for producing a popular eye salve, and it was known for manufacturing clothing. These images highlighted their spiritual needs because they were so familiar with the corresponding physical needs.
Looking back at verse 15—“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.”—why would He wish that? The reason: it is actually easier to share the Gospel with people who openly admit that they reject God. Sharing is easier with someone who says, “I am a total sinner; I am a wretched person.” For instance, people who are drug addicts or prostitutes are more apt to admit they are totally depraved individuals.
Although the Bible is clear that we are all depraved, some folks won’t admit it. They think they’re righteous, that they are “a good person.” They think they can get to heaven by their own merit or good works. A religious person, doing all these religious things, is hard to reach.
The cold person is easier to reach in that he or she is living a life of total rebellion. Most “cold” people are flagrant, rebellious sinners who jump with both feet into sin. These folks will acknowledge they’re sinners. They’re easier to convince of that, and through the Gospel message and with the Holy Spirit to convict them they recognize they have broken the moral law. In this regard, think about the “man on the street” interviews some Christian evangelists do.
“Have you ever told a lie?”
“Oh, yeah, of course, man.”
“Ever stolen anything?”
“Have you ever looked at a woman with lust?”
They admit it, don’t they? But talk to someone who is a false convert, who plays the religious game.
“Have you ever looked at someone with lust?”
“Oh, no, not me.”
It’s hard to win in this religious game.
Let’s continue by picking up our study at Revelation 3:16-17, the next two verses:
So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing”—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.
Jesus tells them, “You’re poor, you’re blind, and you’re naked.” But they’re thinking, “What do you mean, poor? We’re wealthy. What do you mean, blind? We manufacture eye salve. What do you mean, naked? We make clothes here.” He’s speaking spiritually, of course: “You’re spiritually poor, spiritually blind, and spiritually naked.” He continues, saying, “And I counsel you to buy from Me gold.”
What does Jesus mean when He says to buy gold from Him? Remember, one of the rules of correct Bible study is to use scripture to interpret scripture, and on this point about gold, 1 Peter 1:6-7 is helpful:
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
This text declares “your faith being much more precious than gold.” Jesus uses the same idea in addressing the false church of Laodicea. He wants them to become spiritually rich.
In Revelation 3:18, Jesus goes on to tell them to “buy white garments.” Why white garments? Because that’s often what believers in Heaven are described as wearing. Revelation 7:14 reveals this:
And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” So he said to me, “These are the ones who came out of the great tribulation, and who washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
To Laodicea, Jesus is saying: “You are poor; buy from Me a faith that is more precious than gold. You are spiritually naked; buy from Me white garments. I’ll wash away your sins, and I will wash you clean, and you can wear the white garments of righteousness.” Verse 18 also says they should get “white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.”
And verse 19 reads: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” Because of this verse, some people argue that the Laodicean church consisted of believers. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten,” they claim applies here. But Jesus loves the unbeliever as well, doesn’t He? “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” And Romans 5:8 declares, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
This “church” in Laodicea is made up of non-Christians. Otherwise, why would He be telling believers, “You need salvation”? Why would He be telling them, “You need to purchase white garments; you need to have your sins washed away”? Why would He be telling believers, “You’re spiritually blind”? These are references to people who are not saved. That’s why I believe this is a false church that doesn’t have any believers in it. And because there are no believers in this church, that’s why Jesus is outside the door (verse 20), knocking and hoping to be let in. Jesus is knocking on the door of the false church, not on “the door of someone’s heart.”
So if someone says to you, “Well, God would rather that you be cold.” Wrong-o! God doesn’t desire anyone to be cold. He doesn’t desire that anyone reject Him. If He did, He would be a very twisted God indeed.
Copyright 2014 ©Brannon Howse. This content is for Situation Room members and is not to be duplicated in any form or uploaded to other websites without the express written permission of Brannon Howse or his legally authorized representative.