The Letter to the Seventh Church (in my opinion) is the most difficult of the seven to understand. I want to draw your attention to three issues the interpreter has to work through: Are the recipients of the letter Christians, what does it mean to be lukewarm, and what does Revelation 3:20 mean?
Are the recipients of the letter Christians?
It seems to me that they must be Christians. The evidence for this position begins with the fact that Jesus Christ calls the people He writes to a CHURCH. This admittedly does not guarantee that every person who was connected to the Church in Laodicea was a true born-again Christian, but that does not change the foundational point Jesus is making to this group, as we will see below.
Secondly, and more complex, Daniel Wallace makes a good case for why these people are believers in the Church of Laodicea. He points out that the use of the Greek verb “phileo,” when used separately from “agapao,” carries the force of fellowship. Theologically then, for the Lord to tell these people He loves them with a fellowshipping kind of love, it would suggest that they are in fact part of His body.
Jesus uses some very harsh words against this Church. He calls them wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. He tells them they are lukewarm. He tells them that they need pure gold, white garments, and eye salve. This sounds like they need salvation. I’ll suggest my reason for rejecting this position below.
What does it mean to be lukewarm?
Jesus tells them that He wishes they were either hot or cold. As it is right now, they are lukewarm and are in danger of being vomited out of Jesus’ mouth. I used to think that Jesus was decrying “fence-sitting” in this passage. That He wanted people to either be completely sold out for Him or completely against Him so that there is no question to anyone about whose side you are on. However, it seems inconceivable that Jesus would wish someone were completely against Him. And the issue of “fence-sitting” being confusing to Jesus is certainly no trouble to the Omniscient One.
Rather, the historical and geographical context of Laodicea probably clears up what Jesus is referring to here. There were two neighboring cities with springs of water around Laodicea. One had hot springs and the other had cold springs. But, the aqueduct system for Laodicea was not able to retain the properties of the two springs – they mingled together and brought lukewarm water into the city.
Hot water is useful, cold water is useful, but lukewarm water can’t do what either of the other two can do. Jesus seems to be saying, “I have called some of you to be hot, I have called some of you to be cold – and yet you all are just lukewarm. You are not being who I have called you to be.”
What does Revelation 3:20 mean?
Behold, 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.
Is this a summons to salvation? “Will you invite Jesus into your heart?” I do not think that is Jesus’ point. First, I just argued above that these people were already Christians. Second, and more importantly, look at the prepositions “in to” and “into.” (Again, see Daniel Wallace’s discussion on this.) These are different words in both English and Greek. The verse says Jesus will come “in to” the person. The force of the verse then is not – will you allow Jesus to indwell you? (Which is theologically problematic anyway seeing as the Holy Spirit is the Member of the Trinity who indwells believers.) Rather, the force of the verse is on whether or not you “hear” Jesus’ voice and open the door to Him.
So, how does this tie together? I take this whole passage as one of the warning passages of the New Testament. Jesus seems to be giving the same warning to the Church in Laodicea three different ways. You are neither hot nor cold, you are lukewarm. You are not rich; you are poor, blind, and naked. Will you hear My voice, or will you close off from Me and remain in the same condition you are currently in?
If you will not be what I created you to be, or buy from Me instead of from the world’s wares, or hear my voice and eat with Me, THEN I will spew you out of My mouth. You will have shown yourself to be a false believer. You will have shown yourself to be lost. BUT, if you will be what I created you to be through repentance and zeal; if you will get your gold and white garments and eye salve from Me instead of from the world; if you will hear my voice and open the door, then this warning will have done its job and you will have given evidences of grace in your life.
And if you will hear My voice and open the door and eat with me, then I will allow you to sit down with Me on My throne just as I sat down with My Father on His throne!
To read another pastor’s take on this conclusion, go here. It is worth your time.