The Real Meaning Of Revelation 3:16 (What A Lukewarm Christian Looks Like)

So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. Revelation 3:16

This is a powerful image that carries with it a stark warning that we shouldn’t ignore. The meaning of Revelation 3:16 reveals to us the purpose that God has for his followers and challenges us to not be lukewarm Christians.

I think this passage is one that is much needed in the church today. Many have fallen away from the calling that God has given them thus becoming lukewarm. This verse will help us see how we can get back on track. 

The Context Of Revelation 3:16

To help us better understand the Revelation 3:16 meaning we first need to understand who this passage was addressed to. 

In the first few chapters of Revelation, John (the author) records a message from God to seven churches. These are real churches that existed in John’s day, however, the messages are not exclusive to these churches. They stand as representations of all churches. 

In Revelation 3:14-22 we see John addressing the Laodicean church. This church was struggling; they had largely abandoned their faith and were relying on their own strength to get by.

This church was positioned in a heavily resourced area. As a result they lived comfortable lives and were prideful in their ability to provide for themselves. So much so that when an earthquake destroyed their city in 60 AD they refused help from the Roman Empire and insisted on paying for the rebuild themselves. 

This attitude of self-sufficiency spilled over into the church. They thought they could do it all themselves, and they neglected to rely on God. Revelation 3:16 is a harsh, but spurred from love, reminder where God points out their weakness and tells them this attitude has made them useless. 

It’s important to understand this isn’t a salvation issue but a usefulness issue. This church has abandoned its mission and had become ineffective, useless, and lukewarm. 

This passage is about how we as believers can become lukewarm and feel like we are self-sufficient. In doing so we push Jesus out and compromise our God-given calling in life. That’s what the church in Laodicea had done, and what many Christians today do as well. 

Later in this passage is another famous image that we often get wrong, Jesus knocking on the door. You can read about that here: What Revelation 3:20 Really Means 

The Meaning Of Revelation 3:16

This verse is full of some powerful imagery that helps drive home the point of this verse. But we often miss the meaning of Revelation 3:16 because we don’t know all the details of the church it was written to. To help you better understand, I’ve broken this verse down into two sections. 

Because You Are Lukewarm Neither Hot Nor Cold

This image of lukewarm water would have caused a powerful reaction from the Laodicean church. It’s not a mistake or happenstance that the title this church is given is one of being lukewarm water. Drinks are better when they are hot or cold. But all that this city had access to was lukewarm water.

The neighboring city of Hierapolis had a hot spring that was valuable for its medicinal effects. But by the time the water made its way to Laodicea through aqueducts, it had lost its heat. It was lukewarm. 

Another nearby city of Colosse had cool, refreshing, life-giving water that was the perfect refreshing beverage. But by the time the cool and refreshing water reached Laodicea, it was no longer cold. It was lukewarm.

Hot water is soothing and cold water is refreshing, but lukewarm water is not so useful. 

What God is telling this church is that they are not useful to him. They’ve become stagnant, lifeless, all about themselves… lukewarm. 

I Am About To Spit You Out Of My Mouth

Because this church is not soothing or refreshing God says, “I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”An image that the church would be very familiar with when they sipped their water supply. 

I like what Tom Constable says about this: “The Lord’s spitting His people out of His mouth does not mean they would lose their salvation. This anthropomorphism simply indicates His intense disgust. He did not mean that He would rather we be spiritually cold than that we be spiritually lukewarm either. He did mean that He would rather we be spiritually refreshing or healthful, as cold or hot water, rather than that we be spiritually bland, as lukewarm water. This explanation seems more likely than the one that identifies the Laodiceans as unbelievers.”

The Bible challenges us to remain on mission for God. He has given each of us a purpose and a role. The church in Laodicea had become stagnant in their faith and abandoned their mission. They were lukewarm Christians. 

How Revelation 3:16 Applies To Your Life

There are a lot of similarities between the Laodicean church and the Western church today. We’ve largely lost our purpose and abandoned our God-given mission. We rarely rely on God and instead seek to provide for ourselves. 

Revelation 3:16 calls us to snap out of this attitude. To not be lukewarm and to instead be hot or cold. Soothing or refreshing. Useful for God and beneficial for those around us. 

It’s important that we understand that this isn’t a salvation issue; we are saved by placing our faith in God and not our works. Revelation 3:16 is a warning to not lose our purpose. God has called each of us to something of significance. He’s given each of us skills, gifts, talents, resources, and relationships. We are to use all those things to tell others about what he has done. 

Revelation 3:16 is inviting us to step back into the calling God has given us. It’s an invitation to once again become useful, refreshing, and life-giving to the world. Like a glass of cold water on a hot day or a cup of hot tea on a sore throat, Jesus is offering to redeem us from our lukewarm existence. 

The choice is yours, will you stay lukewarm? Or will you allow God to use you in ways you can’t even imagine? 

Jeffery Curtis Poor
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