Revelation 3:15-17

Revelation 3:15-17 NIV
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 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 was always slightly puzzled by what these verses mean but never really looked into it until I read about it in Craig Keener’s The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation.

Regarding verse 15, although it may be well known to most of my readers, who are generally more well educated in things Bible than I, Jesus is referring to the water temperature and quality or lack thereof in Laodicea, the church He is addressing here.

Keener writes:

Laodicea lacked its own water supply, having no direct access to the cold water of the mountains or the hot water of the nearby springs in Hierapolis to the north. In contrast to its claims to self-sufficiency (Rev. 3:17), it had to pipe in its water; though much of the aqueduct from the south was underground, nearer the city it came through stone barrel pipes, thus remaining vulnerable to any intended besiegers who wished to cut off the city’s water supply. More important, this water had grown lukewarm by the time of its arrival.

Other sources speak more about how displeasing this water was.

NLT Study Bible:

neither hot nor cold: The hot springs in Hierapolis were famous for their healing qualities. Colosse was equally famous for its cold, refreshing springs. In contrast, the water available in Laodicea was smelly and lukewarm. Such water is distasteful; Jesus was saying that the church’s indecisive commitment to him was revolting.

ESV Study Bible:

The waters of the nearby Lycus River were muddy and undrinkable, and the waters flowing by aqueduct from hot springs 5 miles (8 km) away were lukewarm when they reached Laodicea. Likewise, Jesus found his church’s tepid indifference repugnant. Cold and hot water represent something positive, for cold water refreshes in the heat, and hot water is a tonic when one is chilly.

So in mentioning the hot and cold water Jesus wasn’t speaking to their spiritual zeal or lack. And it doesn’t make sense that Jesus would rather they be spiritually cold than lukewarm. He’s not saying, “Pick a side, any side, as long as you commit to something.” Or that He would rather we be willfully cold towards Him as a way of showing some sort of truthful integrity if we aren’t very thrilled about how we feel about God at the moment.

What Jesus is saying is much more shocking. As Keener puts it,

In today’s English, he is telling the self-satisfied church in Laodicea: ‘I want water that will refresh me, but you remind me instead of the water you always complain about. You make me want to puke.’

The Laodiceans, who prided themselves on their wealth and self-sufficiency (Rev. 3:17) didn’t even have water that tasted good and Jesus used this to illustrate their spiritual self sufficiency and pride, and how He felt about it.

I was wondering if puke was a little overboard.

Thayer: to vomit, vomit forth, throw up, i. e. to reject with extreme disgust,

Louw-Nida: Since a term meaning ‘to vomit’ often carries somewhat vulgar connotations, ἐμέω in Re 3.16 has frequently been translated as ‘to spit out of my mouth.’ It is also possible to interpret ‘to vomit out of the mouth’ as an idiom meaning ‘to reject.’

It seems to me that a disservice is done when translations water this down (no pun intended). Most popular translations use spit. Among those that I looked at, the HCSB, LITV, Mounce Sr. (Interlinear), NET, NKJV, The Message and WEB use vomit. The Geneva Bible and King James use spewe and spue. (I think they were ahead of their time.)

Further reading:
The Letter to the Church in Laodicea at Ligonier Ministries


37 Responses to “Revelation 3:15-17”

  1. 1 Joel (Polycarp)

    Jeff, excellent point. I had not looked at it that way – the hot and cold.

  2. 2 Randy James

    great research, well thought out, well written, thanks.

  3. 3 Dave Almeter

    Jeff, thanks, This is a well thought out study. Hot is good and cold is good. Anything in beteeen is yucky!
    It’s good to see that Jesus was speaking of the spiritual condition of the prowd Laodicean church; relating to the water condition. Hot has good cleansing qualities, cold has refreshing, thirst quenching qualities. These Laodician saints must have been shaken by this smart rebuke understanding their condition.
    Thanks for this great insight. Be blest, Dave

  4. 4 Scripture Zealot

    Dave you’re welcome. I can’t claim the insight was my own, just information gathered from those much smarter and more gifted than me.

    I love learning this type of stuff. It’s why I read commentaries and is part of the quest to learn what the inspired writers were conveying to their readers/hearers as opposed to conventional wisdom which isn’t always on track.


  5. 5 TheZuluKing

    Jesus may have been comparing the church’s attitude to the water conditions present at Laodicea, but make not mistake Jesus condemned their attitude. It is better to be hot or cold than to be lukewarm. Jesus stated and you modern humanist can’t absolve yourself from it. You can’t say “I’m a good person, I follow most of God’s tenets. I am going to heaven.” We all sin. We can’t live in sin and think “I’m a good person. I deserve heaven.” So the truth in the lukewarm scripture is this: Jesus prefers you be either hot or cold when you claim your Christian. Also, people think if you are cold that means you are the worst of the worst. There are a lot of good humans who don’t worship and will go to hell. There are a lot of good humans who are lukewarm with their worship who will join them. That is the truth. The passage reinforces my belief that God should come before work, job, and family. That worship should not just be Sunday. That seeking his knowledge is a daily pursuit. If you don’t behave in such a manner then heaven is not your destiny. This is from a Christian non worshiper. Figure that out.

  6. 6 TheZuluKing

    There is analogy I’m reading about this Bible verse that confuses the situation but not the outcome of my previous statement. Hot waters represent healing and cold waters represent a refreshing. The analogy suggest Jesus, when comparing Laodicea to the water, gave equal weight to hot and cold water and the negative was being lukewarm. That analogy suggest the scripture doesn’t intend to give the impression that Jesus preferred Christians totally devoted or not devoted at all. Either way, the end result is the same. Jesus is so put off by the half-ass way Laodicea Christians worshiped that he said he would spit them out instead of embrace them. So whether you believe in the water analogy, or you believe Jesus prefers you totally devoted or not at all, the end result is the same. Those who are not totally devoted to Christ will not find heaven. The lukewarm will not find heaven and we know non- believers will not find heaven. So the end result is the same no matter how you look at it. The debate over hot and cold doesn’t matter.

  7. 7 Robert diamond

    Yall,so called bible scolars are wrong yall are using to much of,this manly’ ‘ wisdom” Jesus ment its better u be hot or cold meaning u have 2 pick who u will surve him or by defult ur surving satin theres no middle ground its that simple we have 2 choose he dosent send us 2 hell its us not Getting baptized with the same baptizim he Jesus was that will land us in hell

  8. 8 Scripture Zealot

    Am I supposed to be convinced by someone who can’t write?

  9. 9 Robert diamond

    Im not trying 2 convince u im just dooing wat my Father Jesus puts on my heart God is no respecter of man & ur so called knowlage thats not gonna mean annything on Judgement day the apostales werent scolars but didnt God use them yall get so caught up in all this so called brain power,that yall dont know Gods voice when yall hear it Jesus said unless a man is born of water & the spirt he cannont enter into the kingdom thats all i need 2 know

  10. 10 Scripture Zealot

    I’m not caught up in brain power or puffed up wisdom. I’m passing on what God’s gifted scholars are teaching us. God gifts people to teach, work with languages, even anthropology.

    I doubt that you’re a prophet that knows the correct interpretation of all Scripture but who knows, maybe you are.

    Tell me one thing–God wishes we were “one or the other”–why would God want us to be cold according to your interpretation?

    Also, if all you need to know is that man is born of water and the spirit why are you messing around with this passage? And isn’t is great to mine the depths of Scripture and knowledge of God instead of just sticking with milk?

  11. 11 Robert diamond

    He dosent want us to be cold he is longsuffring 4usward not willing that anny should parrish but all come 2 repentence but he dosent want us in the middle he wants us to be with him or against him by defualt ppl worship satin and surve him by there choice of lifestyle & whatever they put b4 God becomes there god he said that bc hes not a God of confussion one day ur gonna surve him than the next ur not thats confusion & he wont let annyone enter da kingdom who is confused

  12. 12 Robert diamond

    we should not take from the word or add to the word or he will add onto us every plage he cast on egypy & every desise that isnt written in this book & beeing born of water & spirt is the only way 2 make it into the kingdom so thats the main thing we should know if annything back in those days that was the only way 2 be apart of the church the church started in the book of acts in the old test there was no church so when we say that romans scrip connfess with ur mouth he was writng to a church that was backsliding we all need 2 know who he was talking to

  13. 13 Scripture Zealot

    What did we add to it? We’re supposed to rightly divide the Word of truth. Just because you disagree with something doesn’t mean it’s been added to.

    If all you need to know is to be born of water and spirit then you might want to just keep it that way and don’t try to interpret the more difficult passages. You seem to be using faulty, closed, human logic 2 interpret Scripture.

  14. 14 Robert diamond

    I dont try 2 interpet anny scriptures the spirt dwells in me & gives,me the understanding of every scripture this is a spirtual battel satin isnt scared of that u have a 1000 degrees he dosent care but he fears the word thats how we defeat him so all this is unness its erevalant or watever you be blessed in ur,quest for understanding sir

  15. 15 Scripture Zealot

    Well, I guess you and the Holy Spirit must be right about everything then. I wish I was.

  16. 16 David D


    The way I understand this verse, is that Jesus would rather an individual be cold (uncommitted) towards him than be lukewarm (believe they’re committed when in fact they’re not). Said another way, better to be sick and know you need healing than to be sick and think you are healed.

    …I wonder if this thread is even active any more?

  17. 17 Scripture Zealot

    This is a very old thread.

    That’s the way most people understood this passage for a long time.

    I don’t think Jesus would rather anyone to be cold towards him. I think the new archaeological and linguistic evidence shows what this passage really means.

  18. 18 Perry Nielsen

    Interesting that scripture can be interpreted in many ways.
    Surely the people being addressed put things into certain context.
    Just a imagine though – picture this…
    Steam on a hot day
    Someones breath on a cold day
    Someone blowing cigarette smoke from their mouth

    A clue to signs of the times…..
    I’d rather think that there are many meanings all rolled into one – direct and inferred
    Read John Allegro the mushroom and the sacred cross for insight from an etymologist’s veiwpoint. Puns are hidden in translation from one language to the next.
    Just a thought…especially if the seven letters also refer to seven periods of time …they are being dictated in a dream – prophesy …it’s not John talking.

  19. 19 kms

    Perhaps being cold is simply relying on yourself or not relying on the grace of Christ. I agree that God does not wish for His children to be cold toward Him. Relying on ourselves is the same as following the law of Moses. Paul often writes how the law leads us to Christ. Once we realize we can never live up to His standards by our own actions, we can realize we need the one act of Jesus. Then we become hot. With that in mind, being lukewarm may be acknowledging the grace of Christ but still teaching and believing that we must do more to be right and fully redeemed. Living under the old and the New Covenant. Not relying on the Blood of Christ fully.

  20. 20 cheri

    GK Chesterton: ‘It is good for a Christian to be in a lot of hot water, it keeps him clean’.

    If the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference, it would seem to me ‘lukewarmness’ would be a grave offense to God.

  21. 21 Robin

    Wow, I love this debate…your interpretation of the hot and cold water is very enlightening….I understand how yucky warm water is for drinking and bathing…and why anyone would want to spit it out…I watched the film Gandhi last night..and was so moved by how this Hindu man grasped the ideals of Christianity and actually lived them. He was not warm. He was totally committed to what he believed was true and right. That’s what Jesus wants us to do. Mother Theresa was another fine example. Do what is right and do it with love. Do not claim to be a Christian if you cannot follow the basic principles…love your neighbor, turn the other cheek, forgive others.

  22. 22 Scripture Zealot

    Hi. Thank you for the comment and stopping by.

    That’s actually not my interpretation. I read that in a commentary and it seems to be an accepted interpretation because of the archeological evidence. And not that I always like to use human logic, but it makes so much more sense.

    I wonder what Christ would say to Ghandi since he didn’t really believe in Jesus.

  23. 23 Robin

    If I recall correctly, I understand that when Jesus was asked by some what they must do to enter the kingdom of heaven he replied….Love one another….I don’t remember him telling anyone that they had to believe that he died on the cross for them.

    I think Jesus would say, Welcome Home, I love you Gandhi.

  24. 24 Scripture Zealot

    Maybe you could give a Bible reference for that.

    So God sent Jesus to die a horrible death on a cross for nothing?

    1 Corinthians 1:17-18 GWN Christ didn’t send me to baptize. Instead, he sent me to spread the Good News. I didn’t use intellectual arguments. That would have made the cross of Christ lose its meaning. 18 The message about the cross is nonsense to those who are being destroyed, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved.

    Col. 1:20 GWN God was also pleased to bring everything on earth and in heaven back to himself through Christ. He did this by making peace through Christ’s blood sacrificed on the cross.

    John 14:6 GWN Jesus answered him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one goes to the Father except through me.

    John 5:24 GWN I can guarantee this truth: Those who listen to what I say and believe in the one who sent me will have eternal life. They won’t be judged because they have already passed from death to life.

    John 3:18 CSB Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.

    Gal. 1:8 GWN Whoever tells you good news that is different from the Good News we gave you should be condemned to hell, even if he is one of us or an angel from heaven.

  25. 25 Robin

    Who are you to say that Gandhi didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus?
    He certainly listened to what Jesus said and conducted his life accordingly.
    Get yourself a RED LETTER edition of the New Testament and pay attention to what Jesus said and did.

  26. 26 Scripture Zealot

    Why red letter? It says the same as when all the letters are the same color. They didn’t have red letters when the Bible was written.

    I provided you with Scripture. Please read it and ask God to speak to you through it. You’ve provided me with nothing but sentimental twaddle. Ghandi may have made a ‘deathbed confession’, but other than that, he wasn’t a believer from what he said and did and didn’t do. Please be careful. There are plenty of non-Christians who conduct lives of good works and who think Jesus was a prophet, teacher and a good example.

    Gandhi did not believe that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. He did not believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. So Jesus is now dead. It’s hard to have a relationship with a dead person.

  27. 27 KMS

    “I know thy works”.
    This the preface to the verse on being hot or cold. I am not a biblical scholar and certainly am open to being corrected, but it seems that our loving Father would not prefer us to be “cold” to Him. Not only because it is detrimental to us as his children, but because He wants the best for us and being apart from Him isn’t the best.
    Being hot or cold seems that it would make more sense that, being in alignment with the whole New Testament, that the reference is to Jesus -not our works as a Christian. I have heard all to often people refer to someone as a “good” Christian. “Yeah, that Sally, she is a good Christian woman. She helps the elderly, reads her Bible an hour a day and is on the prayer team.” It’s as if her actions make her a better Christian. Only one act, an act we didn’t do, makes us a good Christian, and we all know what that was.
    So back to the hot and cold or lukewarm. “I know your works.” Paul stressed on many occasions that our works can never be enough, just as Jesus did. Lukewarm is how many of us live our Christian life. We are trying to be the good Christian – having our works or actions make us better Christians. So many of us think we need to act a certain way to qualify for God’s grace. We don’t. Jesus made us righteous in the eyes of our Father by taking all our sins upon Himself – past, present and future. So we are now and forever cleansed. With a truly changed heart, comes new life and with a new life new actions.
    Cold is living in the Old Law – the Law of works.
    Hot is accepting God’s grace.
    Lukewarm is still accepting God’s grace and acting as if we need to do more. Rather than being changed and wanting to do more.
    Paul’s message is clear that the Old Law has been replaced by the New Covenant.
    Hopefully this makes sense – sometimes I don’t communicate clearly.

  28. 28 Scripture Zealot

    I’m not a scholar either and can’t critique your interpretation of the passage but I think the premise holds true and is a good comment on the work of the cross. It makes a lot of sense in a Biblical way. Thanks for writing.

  29. 29 Robin

    Interesting….I pay attention to the words of Jesus…rather than Paul or any other interpretation. That’s why I suggested you get a Red Letter Bible….just focus on what the Master actually said.

    As far as your comment that Jesus is dead! My Jesus Christ is not dead. He is alive and well in my heart and in the hearts of millions of other Real Christians.

  30. 30 Robin

    Wow Jeff….I just read all of your blogs and I’m quite amazed at your need to question and site chapter and verse to prove your point of view.

    You know the scholars and religious folks of Jesus day did that too.

    Jesus challenged them and riled them and upset them and refused to buy into it.

    “Lest ye become like little children”….faith, trust, belief, love ..

    Sorry but your whole deal here looks like ‘EGO’.
    Who are you serving anyway? What’s in your heart?

    Jesus forgave everyone who asked for forgiveness…but he required that they: “go…and sin no more”, which leads us to the ‘good works’ that people do…as He commanded.

    What is in our hearts matters more than what you are debating here.

  31. 31 Stan McCullars

    Jeff, I hope all is going well with you.

  32. 32 Scripture Zealot

    Robin, I quoted Jesus and you ignored him. If this blog could use red letters in the comments, I could have posted them in the quotes from John. I didn’t say Jesus is dead, I said that Gandhi thought Jesus is dead. Please pay attention. I don’t understand why you are so mean spirited. I’m not going to reply to you anymore. No use in you reading this blog if you hate it.

    Stan, I’m having my troubles lately. Getting ready for the pain pump implant and trying not to be nervous. I have three doc appointments this week and my back is hurting a lot from all the sitting. And trying to deal with strange commenters who think only part of the Bible is important and even that part isn’t worth quoting. Breaks my heart. I may not be as “patient” as usual.

    2 Timothy 3:16a
    All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful

    “In order to be able to expound the Scriptures, and as an aid to your pulpit studies, you will need to be familiar with the commentators: a glorious army, let me tell you, whose acquaintance will be your delight and profit. Of course, you are not such wiseacres as to think or say that you can expound Scripture without assistance from the works of divines and learned men who have laboured before you in the field of exposition. If you are of that opinion, pray remain so, for you are not worth the trouble of conversion, and like a little coterie who think with you, would resent the attempt as an insult to your infallibility. It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others. My chat this afternoon is not for these great originals, but for you who are content to learn of holy men, taught of God, and mighty in the Scriptures. It has been the fashion of late years to speak against the use of commentaries. If there were any fear that the expositions of Matthew Henry, Gill, Scott, and others, would be exalted into Christian Targums, we would join the chorus of objectors, but the existence or approach of such a danger we do not suspect. The temptations of our times lie rather in empty pretensions to novelty of sentiment, than in a slavish following of accepted guides. A respectable acquaintance with the opinions of the giants of the past, might have saved many an erratic thinker from wild interpretations and outrageous inferences. Usually, we have found the despisers of commentaries to be men who have no sort of acquaintance with them; in their case, it is the opposite of familiarity which has bred contempt.”

  33. 33 Robin

    I am not being mean spirited….I am here to challenge you to find God and salvation through your very own heart…do not put so much importance upon what other men say. You are worthy to hear from God directly. Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find. The journey is within, not without.

  34. 34 Scripture Zealot

    And with that I give you the last word unless someone else has anything to write. God bless you.

  35. 35 Robin

    Luke 10:25-27
    And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
    He said unto him, What is written in the law? How readest thou?
    And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy god with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself. And He said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
    Jesus goes on to tell a parable which clarifies what loving a neighbor looks like.
    I think this qualifies Mahatma Gandhi for eternal life. And anyone else for that matter. ♥

  36. 36 Robert

    I may be a little late on this, but because we had this discussion last night in Bible Study the point came up. Rev. 3:15 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot, I could wish you were cold or hot.(NKJV). A couples of things, first and foremost, the Bible-the Word of GOD and the HOLY SPIRIT should and always is the final Authority on everything. Secondly, JESUS did say “I know your works, that you are” here’s the key…that you are…denotes I have searched your hearts and your works because of your hearts are lukewarm. Now JESUS also says “I could wish you were cold or hot.” Listen please other scriptures have stated that the LORD wants us to choose a side! Deut.30:19, Josh. 24:15, you see Israel was Cold here, so Joshua through the LORD said decide and choose. Now, why would He wish you to be Cold or Hot. Let’s use a atheist for example, he Cold because he does not know the LORD, but does that mean the LORD can change his heart or transform his mind. Clearly He can, also look at the example of Saul who was renamed Paul. His zeal for GOD was Hot, but for JESUS/the Church it was Cold. But after having a personal encounter with the LORD, he was put into service for the LORD and wrote most of the New Testament. Hot can also be use and changed. Hot can mean that you are on fire for the LORD but your worship and righteousness is misplaced due to leaning towards your own understanding, the LORD can also correct and use this, to His glory. But a lukewarm person, is attempting not to choose sides and straddle the fence sorta speak. JESUS said either you are for me or against me. And He will search the hearts to see why you are against Him as He did with Paul.
    Again, the HOLY SPIRIT is the Final Authority on everything.
    With that being said, the water analogy could be used but Hot water seems a bit self-centered, yes it comforts me, but who else? And in JESUS’s only the Romans had Hot water….

    Thanks and GOD Bless, remember II Tim. 2:15 Study to show yourself, approved unto GOD, a workman who does not need to be ashamed,Rightly dividing the word of truth!!!

  37. 37 Scripture Zealot

    Thank you for your thoughts and Scripture study on this. I’m not in a physical or mental state to comment, but it wouldn’t be critical (negative). You presented everything in a non-condescending way.

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