What does Revelation 3:16 mean?
For reference, here is Revelation 3:15-16:
Revelation 3:15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
In checking sources, I found several elaborate ideas about the uses of hot and cold water in the area around Laodicea. To me, it is best to take the most simple approach. Lukewarm means barely or moderately warm. People tend to enjoy drinking liquids that are either cold or hot. I like iced tea and sometimes drink hot tea. However, a barely warm tea does not taste good to me. Evidently, this is an opinion that cuts across many cultures and many centuries of time.
Therefore, just as many people find lukewarm beverages the least appealing of all temperatures, God finds lukewarm believers the most disgusting kind of believer. And, just as someone getting a mouthful of lukewarm beverage in their mouth may desire or actually spit the drink out, so God prepares to do the same with the church of Laodicea.
In picture, this passage divides people into those who are cold, those who are hot, and those who are lukewarm. Those who are cold would either be the lost or the backslidden believers. Either way, they are so far from God that they simply need to be reached. They are the mission field. They do not know the warmth of God in them. They do not rouse God's anger as much as the lukewarm because they make no claim on spirituality. They are cold and know it.
Those who are hot are those who are on fire for God. They are full of zeal and vehement desire for God (2 Corinthians 7:11). They have addicted themselves to the work of Christ (1 Corinthians 16:15). They are sold out to God and the cause of Christ.
Those who are lukewarm know the working of Christ in their hearts. They want to be known as Christians and consider themselves to be adequately spiritual. However, they have never sold out to God. They continue to dabble in the world and hold on to the pleasures of this life. They are half-and-half Christians. They are lukewarm. Below are some verses that describe the lukewarm saint either directly or in type.
Genesis 49:4 Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel...
1 Kings 18:21 And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him...
Jeremiah 10:5 They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.
Matthew 6:24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
2 Corinthians 6:14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? 15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? 16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
James 1:6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. 7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. 8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
When God deals with the lukewarm believer, He is angered by his halfway measures. He is disgusted with his pretense of spirituality. His desire is to spue him out of His mouth. This describes the judgment that is about to come on the church of Laodicea. This can be compared to the warning given to the church of Ephesus - "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent" (Revelation 2:5). As with Ephesus, the church of Laodicea is about to be removed. God is about to spue them out of His mouth.
Many compare the seven churches of Asia (Revelation 2-3) with the history of the believers since the time of Christ. Although John was writing to particular churches that existed in his lifetime, the application does seem to line up with history (though we must remember that this is an application and not the primary interpretation of the text). Often, we are said to be in the Laodicean church age because of this interpretaion. Certainly, we can see many of the characteristics of the church of Laodicea today in that which calls itself Christianity. Will God then be spueing churches out of His mouth? Will He be turning His back on them? I believe that this has already happened. I have seen it many times over.
However, no period of time since the coming of Christ has been totally filled with one kind of church. The churches of Asia in Revelation give us seven types of churches that can be identified throughout Christian history. Even if this is a Laodicean church age, every church does not have to be a Laodicean church. Even in this age, some churches are like the persecuted church of Smyrna remaining faithful to the Lord (Revelation 2:8-11). Other churches are like the powerful church of Philadelphia walking through open doors that no man can shut. We must always strive to establish churches that are patterned after these commended churches and not the churches that are warned of impending judgment like the church of Laodicea.