What Makes Jesus Physically Upset? — the Letter to Laodicea

by Reverend Anthony R. Locke
Sermon Series in Revelation # 09

Revelation 3:14-22
English Standard Version

14  “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

15  “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!

16  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

17  For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

18  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.

19  Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

20  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.

21  The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

22  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. [1]



The Laodicean Church was a hundred miles inland. The city geography was without natural defenses. Instead of fighting they had learned to negotiate.

They made friends with both sides of nations at war. Laodicea didn’t spend their money on war, but on luxury. Any army could walk through the city without opposition or fear. The city had a habit of negotiating or buying off their enemies, not fighting them.

They were always neutral. They were the Geneva of their time.

So when Jesus says that He speaks the Words of the Amen, He is letting them know that they will not be negotiating with Him. They will not be buying Him off. He has the final word.

Jesus does not speak nuanced words. He doesn’t speak politician. He doesn’t do double talk. Jesus speaks faithful words. His words are always in full agreement with the facts. The words of Jesus are truth for He Himself is the God of truth.

John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

No one every gains ground trying to get God to compromise.

Second, Jesus introduces Himself as the beginning of God’s creation.

Colossians 1:15-20 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Jesus already owns everything that they could hope to offer Him. They will not be able to stay neutral in the battle between God and sin. This is how Jesus introduces Himself.

Next, Jesus says, I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. What does He mean?

Just a short walk up the road was the famous natural spring waters of Colossae. Like the bubbly French spring water called Perrier, no water was cleaner, colder or more refreshing.

Also nearby was the famous hot spring waters of Hierapolis. Like an expensive spa, the water was enriched with natural minerals. It’s hot springs were medicinal and rejuvenating.

The city of Laodicea didn’t have their own water supply. They built aqueducts to bring the water in. By the time water arrived from Colossae it had turned salty and lukewarm. It wasn’t good for refreshing the animals. Residents who were native to the city were repelled by it’s taste.

The Church at Laodicea left Jesus with a bad taste in his mouth. Their neutral stance was offensive to Jesus.

The church was not committed to converting the lost. The church was not committed to growing disciples. The church wasn’t reaching out to the community. The church wasn’t reaching out to their own membership. The church wasn’t bringing broken lives to Jesus. The church wasn’t refreshing the saints.

Some commentaries mistakenly explain these verses as if Jesus was wishing that they were totally committed (hot) or not committed to Christ at all (cold).

Jesus would never wish for you to have a sin filled life so that you would be ripe for evangelism. It’s funny to think some preachers explain these verses in this way.

Jesus is saying that we need to be engaged in the Kingdom battle. We can’t take a neutral position. We can’t be Geneva and choose not to get involved.

Hot water is good. Be a Chuck Colson. Be a Dr. D. James Kennedy. Be a James Dobson, a Billy Graham or a Billy Sunday. Get on the front lines as a warrior for Jesus!

You want to be hot? Set Martin Luther as your hero and set the world on fire!

Cold water is good too. Be a R. C. Sproul. Be a James M. Boice. Be a Tim Keller or a Sinclair Ferguson. Serve in a support role for the Kingdom. Work quietly in a discipleship oriented church to mature covenant children. Raise missionaries, seminary professors and denominational servants by not growing weary in your good works.

You want to be cold and refreshing? Set John Calvin as your hero and refresh the Church through your tieless service. Just be useful!

Jesus doesn’t care if you are hot or cold, black or white, Hispanic or Asian. Jesus wants you to find your niche and make an impact. Jesus doesn’t care if our church has a traditional or progressive worship style. Are we making an impact?

What’s our impact for the Kingdom? When do we get on the front lines of the battle, put on our spiritual amour, and make our contribution? Or are we just happy taking the credit for the progress of God’s Kingdom by previous generations? We worship in a great building. We have a great heritage. We often recount that progress as our own. Yet, what are we contributing on that level for the next generation? Are we idle? Are we lukewarm?

Verse 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. That’s not the most poetic verse in the Bible. It’s not a verse to name it and claim it.

My young boys like verse 16. The Greek is literally to throw up. Jesus wants to hurl. His stomach is upset by the Laodicean attitude and Jesus looks forward to the feeling He will have after He looses His cookies.  =)

Their offensive inaction, middle of the road uselessness is not their only offensive behavior. Their offense is multiplied by their conceit.

In AD 60 the city of Laodicea was leveled by a massive earthquake. The Roman government sent a royal messenger with a generous offer to rebuild the city. Laodicea turned down the gift. They were too proud to let someone help them get back on their feet.

Verse 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

There are certain churches that can pay their bills, constantly expand and improve on their sanctuary, bonus their staff and send their ministers on sabbatical. There are churches that purchase new choir robes every year and send their children to summer camps and conferences free of charge.

Some of these churches publish their own books, produce DVDs, launch magazines and craft their own Sunday School curriculum. They look amazing! They appear to be movers and shakers. Some are hot for evangelism. Others are cold and refreshing for the people of God.

But, if they are too proud to receive the spiritual gifts of others within the body of Christ, then they are conceited. Many churches won’t open themselves up for a consultant, evangelist, the Minister and His Work Committee or an ONA study. They say, “we need nothing.”

Second, they consider their wealth to be permanent. They think they are on a continual upward climb. Moving from one level of prospering to the next.

Third, they think no one has anything of value that they do not already possess. They wouldn’t listen to a sales call, a letter of assistance from Presbytery or a request from Synod. They are satiated in their own devices. They send home the people who could help.

Jesus confronts their pride with a litany of negative evaluations: they are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Each of these accusations mirror the assumed strengths of people who lived in the city of Laodicea.

I won’t take the time to elaborate, but the city was known for their miracle working eye salve, their celebrity styled clothing, their gold filled vaults, their enviable social economic status and their glorious Hollywood style life. These things don’t impress God.

We need to become like the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

If we are not growing in the fruits of the Spirit, then we are claiming a form of Godliness, but not living by the Spirit’s power. We are not as well off as we would assume.

Jesus can provide us real riches. He bestows gold, silver and precious stones. Only Jesus can help us lay up treasures in Heaven.

Jesus covers our nakedness. We are embarrassingly unprepared to stand before the Lord. Our sins hang on us like ugly stains. Our self-serving good works are like worthless rags. Jesus provides His own righteous good works as white garments that we might be appropriately clothed in the presence of God.

This final letter is harsh, but very helpful if we have ears to listen to these words. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

Jesus has taken His stand outside the door of our hearts. He is knocking against our iron will with words of love and a call to repentance. Are you able to humble yourself enough to benefit from His correction? Are you able to look beyond your earthly advantages and see your poverty?

20  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.

Jesus has a strong desire to sit with you and enjoy a meal. Jesus will not need TUMS if we commit ourselves to living for the Kingdom. We must stop living proud and independent.

Jesus said John 15:1-8 I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

Don’t try to negotiate with Jesus. Fall of your face and repent. Become connected to the Father by the Holy Spirit. Enjoy daily communion with God and become useful for His Kingdom.

You can’t stay neutral. Put on the Christian armor. Fight for Jesus’ sake.

21  The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

Can you imagine a more motivating benediction? Our eternal treasure cannot be calculated. We will be lifted into the same lofty position as Christ.

This is the prayer of Jesus in 2 Peter 1:8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Don’t settle for ineffective Christian living. Don’t be satisfied in your own devises. Colossians 1:10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.

22  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.


[1] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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