The church at Laodicea (Rev 3:14-22) is the only church among the seven addressed in Rev 2-3 that gets absolutely no praise from Jesus. He had nothing good to say about them. They get the lowest score on the performance review. Why is that? After all, there’s no indication they were tolerating false teachers like three of the other churches.
The problem appears to be that they had become utterly comfortable and self-reliant. They were the archetypal rich, comfortable, apathetic church. The Laodicean church became so much like the rest of the world — so much like unbelievers — that Jesus essentially says, “I can’t taste the difference anymore!”
It’s possible for a church to become so satisfied and comfortable with their material wealth and security that they forget to depend on Christ and live for him. It’s especially dangerous when we start equating physical riches with spiritual blessing, as so many false teachers do today. When your focus is on your own stuff and your comfort, Jesus says you become spiritually poor, blind to the truth, and shameful in God’s sight (Rev 3:17).
When we love the things of this world more than we love God and others, and when we become prideful and self-centered, we actually make Jesus sick. (Compare Luke 16:9-15.)
Why does Jesus tell the Laodiceans he’d rather they be “cold” than lukewarm (3:15)?
I’ve heard some preachers take Jesus’ words to mean that he’d prefer people be antagonistically cold toward him rather than be merely half-hearted — as if what Jesus wants most is simply passion in one direction or the other. But this is an absurd claim. There’s no reason Jesus would prefer people be passionate but lost in their condemnation.
Not only is that view problematic theologically; it actually doesn’t fit the archaeological and cultural context, either. In his Revelation commentary (pgs. 255-349), Craig Koester helpfully discusses what the imagery of hot and cold beverages would have meant to an ancient Roman. For them, a hot, steamy beverage would have been clean and life-giving, and a chilled beverage (ice was a luxury back then) would have also been refreshing and nice. Hot and cold are thus both positive images that represent believers who are bringing benefit to others. But a room-temperature drink would be nasty and possibly even dangerously dirty.
Jesus’ point is that Christians should be different enough from the world around them that they bring refreshment and give life. If we blend in too much, we become tasteless. (Compare this to Jesus’ warning about salt losing its “saltiness” and becoming useless — Matt 5:13.)
The apathetic church needs zeal and repentance and real fellowship with Jesus. Notice how ironic Rev 3:20 is — “See! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Jesus is like a poor beggar knocking at the door of the rich church and asking to be let in for a meal. This kind of church (selfish, apathetic, and materialistic) leaves Jesus out in the cold.
Notice Jesus’ words in 3:19 – “As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be zealous and repent.” This is the heart behind Jesus’ critiques. He always corrects out of love. He wants to see you succeed; he’s not a harsh manager looking for reasons to berate you. God disciplines those he loves (see Prov 3:11-12; Heb 12:5-11). He offers us true riches — eternal life, fellowship with him, inclusion in his family.
We all need to be reminded of our need to be zealous in our relationship with Christ, to repent of sin and selfishness that keeps us from fellowship with him, and to stay faithful in good deeds instead of being spiritually apathetic and complacent.
Side Note: Why does Rev 3:14 refer to Jesus as the “beginning” of God’s creation?
Certain translations of Rev 3:14 have Jesus calling himself the “beginning” of God’s creation, which some people misinterpret to mean that Jesus is a created being. That would mean that he is less than God. But that’s not what the verse means.
The Greek word used here is “arche,” which in its most basic and literal sense means “first” but has a range of metaphorical usages. Sometimes it means first chronologically, but here it means “first” in the sense of “preeminence.” Jesus is first in rank or authority.
Calling Jesus the “arche” over creation means he is “in charge of” or “ruler over” creation, not the first thing created. The same Greek word is used elsewhere of Christ as ruler (archon) over the kings of the earth (Rev 1:5), and the letter to the Laodiceans concludes with a description of Christ ruling on God’s throne (3:21). (Koester, Revelation, 336). “Arche” could also be understood to mean “origin” — Jesus is the originator or source of creation (the CSB translation goes with this meaning).
As John 1:3 says, anything that’s ever been created was created by Jesus. So Jesus can’t have been a creation because Jesus precedes all creations, period. He’s the Creator. He’s God.
And he deserves our passionate devotion.
Don’t be lukewarm. Heed the message to the Laodicean church by taking your focus off of your own comfort. As Romans 12:11 (NIV) says, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” and those around you.