This is the wording to the lukewarm church at Laodicea (Rev. 3:14), one of the seven churches in the Roman province of Asia addressed in Rev. 2-3. At first glance it would seem plausible to assign the meaning of fervent and zealous to “hot,” and “cold” would mean to just quit altogether. However, a look at the setting and characteristics of the city may well be the basis for this statement of Jesus.
Laodicea, though a wealthy city, was known for its tepid, lukewarm water, which was brought in from the south of the city, five miles distant.
Laodicea. Water was piped in from the south. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.
It doesn’t appear that it was too appetizing as you see the tendency of the pipes to clog, as illustrated in our photo. These are some sections of pipe excavated by archaeologists.
Laodicea Clogged Pipes. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.
The water distribution tower shows the poor quality of Laodicea’s water.
Clogged Pipe at Laodidea's Water Distribution Tower. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.
But back to our point about the setting of Laodicea. Nearby to the east Colossae was known for its cold refreshing water. Cold can be a good thing!
Cold refreshing water at Colossae. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.
Just to the north and within sight of Laodicea is Hierapolis. It was known for its hot thermal springs. Hot is good! Hot water has medicinal value; Hierapolis became a healing centers. The sign below was photographed there listing all sorts of benefits. Roman emperors were among those who made the journey here.
Hieraoplis. Hot thermal springs have medicinal value. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.
Again, cold water is good and refreshing; hot water is good for healing, but lukewarm, what good is that? The church had taken on the characteristic of the city, and had likewise become lukewarm. What Jesus wanted the church to do was not to become cold in the sense of quitting; he wanted them to “be zealous and repent,” to turn from their lukewarmness.
Study and see if you think this fits. It is consistent with Jesus’ other references to Laodicea’s wool, wealth, and eye care and using these as the basis of His admonitions (Rev. 3:18).
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