Christians use some odd terms.
You know what I’m talking about-churchy words like “the aisle” or “the body” and
faithy phrases like “on fire for God” or “backslidden Christian.” These range from
comical to nebulous, and they all share something in common: We take far too little time
to define what these terms mean.
If you grew up in Christian circles, you’re probably familiar with the term “lukewarm
Christian.” A common characterization of a lukewarm Christian goes something like this:
The Bible says it’s better to be cold or hot than lukewarm, so in some way it’s better to be
an unbeliever than a “lukewarm,” nominal Christian.
The idea is kind of the spiritual equivalent to Yoda’s “do or do not; there is no try.”
But that doesn’t line up with what Jesus actually says-which is both far better and more
alarming to contemporary readers.
Jesus and the ‘Lukewarm’ Church
The book of Revelation opens with seven letters. Each of the seven letters addresses a
different church in Asia Minor, one of which is to the Christians who live in a city called
Laodicea. We get the idea of “lukewarm” Christians from John’s recounting of Jesus’
letter to these Christians.
Here’s what Jesus says to the church in the city of Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22):
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the
faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are
neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are
lukewarm-neither hot nor cold-I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not
realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from
me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can
cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
Think about this: Here is the same Jesus who calls little children to sit with Him, who
teaches us to care for the poor and who offers rest to the spiritually and emotionally
weary. And He says to this body of Christians, “I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
Jesus’ words are shocking.
‘Lukewarm’ and Laodicea
Historians tell us that the city of Laodicea, near what’s now the Turkish city ofDenizli,
received hot water from about five miles away. The water came through pipes, using a
system pioneered by the Romans. But unlike our water-heating systems, the heat wasn’t
localized-it started hot, but after five miles in a wooden pipe, very little heat remained.
Still, their water wasn’t cold or fresh.
So this concept of lukewarm water isn’t a random. Not to Laodiceans. Rather Jesus
makes his point to these Christians by drawing from their daily reality.
Laodicean water was lukewarm, and this presented a problem: Their water was useless.
New Testament scholar Thomas R. Schreiner explains it like this:
THE SAVIOR SELF
[The Laodicean Christians’] works are neither hot nor cold but lukewarm.
It has often been pointed out that both cold and hot water are good. Cold
water is refreshing when you are sweating and unbelievably thirsty. If you
run five miles on a hot day or come in from working in the yard, cold
water is a tonic to your system. In the same way, hot water in tea or
coffee or for bathing is soothing and comforting. But lukewarm water is
disgusting. It doesn’t refresh you nor does it soothe.
Pergamos, cult to Roma and the emperor Augustus. Pergamos means city. The gospel went forth in
30AD by Romes emperor Tiberius the second. Pergamos means Prince of Joy.
Thyatira means daughter, it was a trading post on the road from Pergamos to Laodicea. Cult following
Sardis, is currently in Turkey.
Philadelphia, brotherly love referring to incest. As in she married her brother.
Ephesus means New town or place in the back. Ephesus was a suburb of Smyrna. The temple of Diana
was in Ephesus. Ephesus and Smyrna are currently cities in Turkey.
Smyrna, Myrrh, to be bitter or strong, founded by Alexandar the Great.
You’ve all been taught the name Philadelphia comes from Greek meaning “City of Brotherly
Love.” That’s mostly true. What you haven’t been taught is the long, fascinating history behind
the name. As it turns out, the name Philadelphia ultimately comes from a nickname given to an
ancient Greek ruler of Egypt who gained notoriety for marrying his own full sister. The
“brotherly love” in the name originally referred to literal incest.