Jesus’ assessment of the church is that it is neither cold nor hot. In order to appreciate this point we need to know that a major lack in the city of Laodicea was a suitable water supply for is inhabitants. Nearby Hierapolis had hot springs famous for healing qualities and Colosse was known for its cool drinking water, but Laodicea did not have either. Instead water was carried from another location, via a six-mile long aqueduct that could not keep the water either hot or cold. This is the allusion in Christ’s statement that he would have the church members either cold or hot.
These words do not refer to one’s spiritual temperature, in the sense of ‘hot’ being an ardent spiritual state and ‘cold’ indicating a backsliding state. Instead they describe the inability of the church to provide spiritual healing or spiritual refreshment for the city. Their contribution to the city was equivalent to the tepid water that flowed along the aqueduct. They should have been conveying the gospel of Christ to their community, but because of their lukewarm spiritual state they were incapable of being used by Christ and faced the real possibility of losing their lampstand, graphically illustrated in the Saviour’s threat to spew them out of his mouth.
A second criticism that Jesus makes is that the church seems to have read their providences as a sign of God’s blessing rather than symptoms of spiritual problems. They were doing very well in material things. Of course, possessions in themselves are neutral; the possession of them can be a sign of blessing or they can be a means of backsliding. But it is easy to assume that getting on well is a sign of God’s approval.
There is no hint in the letter of the church in Laodicea facing the problems encountered by the other six churches, such as persecution or false teaching. Rather the church was marked by self-sufficiency and complacency. So those to whom Christ was speaking were in a sad and potentially dangerous state – their spiritual ignorance had resulted in spiritual wretchedness, poverty, blindness and nakedness, with the looming prospect of their cessation as a church. But in his mercy the Lord Jesus draws near to them.