Laodicea, Part 2: What Makes Jesus Sick? (Rev 3:16)

UPDATE: This is an old article. An updated and expanded commentary on this passage can be found in Paul’s book Letters from Jesus. And an updated version of this article can be found here.


God never makes us sick but did you know it’s possible for people to make him feel sick? Now there’s a staggering thought. Yet this is exactly the reaction the Laodicean church elicited from Jesus. They were lukewarm and Jesus said their lukewarmness made him nauseous:

“Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to vomit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:16, LITV)

Jesus is literally saying, “you guys make me sick!” It sounds funny, but it’s no laughing matter. The implications of Jesus’ words are thoroughly frightening. What do they mean for the Laodiceans? Let’s ask Matthew Henry:

“They shall be rejected, and finally rejected; for far be it from the holy Jesus to return to that which has been thus rejected.”

This is one of those places in the Bible where we want to sit up and pay close attention, for Jesus is discussing issues of acceptance and rejection. Here we should ask, what were the Laodiceans doing that led to this threat of being rejected by Jesus?

What gets you rejected by Jesus?

In Part 1 of the series I noted that some people define lukewarmness in terms of human zeal and apathy. There are at least three good reasons why apathy cannot be the issue in this case. Still, you may have come across people who think they are “hot” or “on fire” for Jesus because they have judged with Old Testament harshness those parts of the body of Christ that don’t meet their particular standards for hotness. For them it’s a self-fulfilling, self-gratifying theology. They have set for themselves a certain standard which they have met and from which they rain down judgment on others who are not like them. They excel at finding fault and their idea of helping those who struggle is to preach religion. These self-appointed judges and self-styled watchmen make me pewking nauseous.

And maybe they make Jesus nauseous too.

The Message Bible translates Jesus’ words in verse 16 like this: “you make me want to vomit.” Now think about all the people Jesus met when he walked the earth and ask yourself, which group made Jesus sick?

Was it the sinners? No. Jesus was a friend of sinners. Jesus went to the cross for sinners.

Was it those living meekly under the law? No. Jesus came to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law and set such people free. He redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Gal 3:13).

Was it those who showed faith? No. Jesus marvelled at such people. Faith pleases the Lord.

So who made Jesus sick? Matthew 23 gives us the answer:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” (Mat 23:27)

Religion makes Jesus sick

Nothing nauseated Jesus like religious hypocrites who put law on others which they themselves did not follow. Note that the problem with the Pharisees was not what they were preaching. As we saw in Part 1, the law is good. Hence Jesus said to the Jews, “You must obey them and do everything they tell you” (Mt 23:3). Why is Jesus advocating the law? Because the law strips us of our self-righteousness leaving us silent and condemned before a holy God. The law reveals our need for a Saviour.

But then Jesus adds, “do what they say but don’t do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach” (Mt 23:3). The Pharisees lived by a double-standard. They were preaching the law to others but were diluting it for themselves. They were mixing it with a little grace of their own. They were lowering the divine standard to an attainable level thus thwarting the purpose for which the law was given. Instead of being silenced and condemned, the Pharisees were outspoken and proud. They were exalting themselves. They thought they were in right standing before God and everyone around them needed to come up to their religious level. This made Jesus furious!

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Mat 23:33)

No one would deny that the Pharisees were zealous for God. But theirs’ was a carnal zeal based on the Satanic lie that we can make ourselves righteous. Jesus said they appeared righteous on the outside, but on the inside they were “full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Mt 23:28). Instead of submitting to Christ’s righteousness, they sought to establish their own (Rms 10:3).

Now let’s jump back to Revelations 3.

The traditional view is that the Laodiceans were lazy and half-hearted, but I suspect they were as zealous as Pharisees. They were passionate about their religion. Perhaps they gave a “tenth of all their spices” like the Pharisees did. Perhaps they traveled “over land and sea to win a single convert.” But they did so out of religious pride. Like the Pharisees they exalted themselves saying, “we are rich and do not need a thing” (Rev 3:17). Instead of being silenced by God’s holy law, they had become boastful and independent. And like the Pharisees, they made Jesus sick.

Jesus left the comforts of heaven to endure unimaginable suffering on the cross in order that we might be redeemed from the condemnation of the law. To act as if we could somehow attain that divine and perfect standard in our own strength is to insult a holy God who lives in unapproachable light. And to reject the free gift of his grace and righteousness that makes it possible for us to draw near, is to insult his Son.

Reject Jesus as unnecessary and he will reject you.

We begin to understand, then, why Jesus called the Laodiceans “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” In Part 3 of this series I will begin look at what that means for the rest of us and the remedies that Jesus offers.


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33 Comments on Laodicea, Part 2: What Makes Jesus Sick? (Rev 3:16)

  1. Great job!!! Truth is always so refreshing….

  2. Such an easy clear explanation. There is a saying that goes, ‘Anointed teachers make the complicated simple. Annoying teachers make the simple complicated.’ You have an amazing ability to make complicated things simple! Thanks for sharing boldly!

  3. Paul, I think that you are cool.

  4. Another dimension of this topic is some cultural / historical context. Drinking liquids that were lukewarm often had a risk of disease or contamination. Cold or hot liquids were not only more refreshing but safer to drink.

    • Adding to that, Laodecia was between two regions known for their water sources – one being a fresh cold spring of water, the other hot springs. A geographical aspect. …

  5. Interesting view that you have here, vastly different then what I have been reading on the verses. I tend to believe that Jesus was speaking more about ministry and how this church was leading their lives. Being in the middle is in my opinion one of the worst things that we can do as believers of the gospel. We are free but yet Paul was a “prisoner” to Christ. Paul was called out of a cold law following life to a grace following life. Paul also said immitate me as I also immitate Christ. Paul’s life was a definition of what it means to be Hot or on fire for Jesus.

    Also take note that Jesus says “I know” so he knows what they are doing we can only speculate. That would explain the hot and cold reference he is making. The fact that Jesus knows. So whatever is hot or cold to you or I is irrelevant Jesus knows.Thanks for your time be blessed.

    • Thanks for your comment Don. So you’re saying that we can never know if Jesus will vomit us out – it’s a mystery – but unless we are doing the sorts of things that Paul did – traveling the known world and planting churches – then the odds are high that we will be. And that’s supposed to be good news?! That’s supposed to be inspiring?!

      With all respect, I would encourage you to keep reading, and start with this.

  6. No my point is that fom the passage Jesus “knows”. So whatever they were doing or weren’t doing made him vomit. I doubt that a born agin believer can be lukewarm and not know it, that is just a bit too much for me to believe. Again Jesus says I “know” you cant fool Christ with half hearted service and I dont believe you can fool yourself either. Yes service itself does not save but also James said faith without works is dead also. Abraham was justified by faith not by his works. The two must work hand in hand. When I say hot or cold to you or I Is irrelevant, I mean from the outside looking in. Every born again believer has the Holy Spirit as guide to discern. The good news is that the grace of our Lord allows us to become hot again through scripture, prayer and praise which brings us closer to Him. I Thess 5:16-18

    • Don, I understood you the first time. The position you espouse is the one most of us have grown up with. Indeed, it is the one I used to preach. Of course you are entitled to any theology you like – just don’t go around calling it good news because it isn’t. It’s religious double-talk that leaves the saints at best introspective and, at worst, insecure and fearful of being vomited out. Jesus does not vomit out body parts. As I explain elsewhere, God is not judging our hotness in regard to our study of scripture, prayer and praise – we are not in an enthusiasm contest. This is a faithless, loveless theology that implicitly treats the saints like dogs at a dog show.

      • I disagree with that. Your of the mindset that as Christians we have no responsibility at all. It’s a dangerous theology to change scripture because it makes you uncomfortable. The text says what it says you can’t make it fit your mindset, you let the word change your mindset. The issue is a lukewarm faith which makes Christ vomit.

      • Why would I be uncomfortable with good news?! I am not the one adding words to the text. You are suggesting that we live and die on our lukewarm faith but the phrase “lukewarm faith” is in your invention. It’s not in the Bible. “The text says what it says.” No, apparently it doesn’t because it needs your qualifiers. Read my post on lukewarmness (I really wish you would) and you will find no such additions. And since when did I say anything about responsibility? Come on Don, be honest. You’re attacking things I haven’t said. I have put my views online for the whole world to see but you’re just throwing stones now.

        Okay Don, I will play your game a little while longer. Since you are of the view that lukewarm faith is the difference between salvation and damnation – or being vomited and not vomited – please provide us with your definition of lukewarm faith. I’ll bet you can’t do it. I’ll bet you’ll say it’s a big mystery – it’s a heart issue or only Jesus knows. If so, then you have a useless theology. You won’t ever be able to offer someone an assurance of their salvation because you don’t have a hope that is a firm and secure anchor for the soul (Heb 6:19). You won’t have found a truth that makes you free indeed (Jn 8:36). Just sayin’.

  7. Revelation 3:16. I don’t think that I said our salvation is based on works. But how can you say your a believer and your have no fruit to show? Your miserable, lazy and always complaining. But “thank” the Lord for grace.

    How would we know of Jesus today if the early disciples were lukewarm? Paul I’m not saying you are those things. I’m trying to figure out why you think or what you think the believers role is? Nothing? What if someone thinks witnessing is works?

    • Again, where did I say a believer has no fruit and is always complaining?! Don, you are attacking arguments no one here is making. What is the believer’s work? It is to believe! Jesus said so: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (Joh 6:29). I appreciate that those who don’t believe in grace can be very busy, but their works are just straw for the fire. I know. I’ve been there.

      It is a common complaint that those who trust in grace are lazy, but it’s a myth. I don’t want to get into a fruit-comparing game here because that will just agitate your flesh and mine. But there is no lasting fruit for those who are “trying to make it happen.” The paradox of grace is we do more when we rest. Since I began to rest fully in His finished work, I have never been more fruitful and more productive. I rue the years lost to religion where I called myself a servant of God and moved primarily in the realm of the humanly possible.

      • I wasn’t attacking I was trying to use an illustration. So what is the evidence of belief? I don’t think I ever said that salvation is earned what I am saying and what says in the NEW testament is faith without works is dead. Mark 16 there is evidence of a believer.

    • I’m somewhere at the line between these two views expressed here.

  8. don, Jesus’ is making the same comparison of “hot and cold” as He is w/ the “old and new” in the parables about the new patch on the old garment and the new wine in the old wineskins (luke 5:36-39)…
    faith is not the issue of this passage – however, when law and grace are mixed together, our faith is voided (rom 4:14)

    and please note that Jesus does not even make preference for the hot over the cold either – He wishes they were EITHER hot OR cold! (so how can we presume that being hot is actually better than being cold?)
    He only rejects the lukewarm – neither hot nor cold -but the mixture of both: the mixture of law and grace… that voids the faith He has given us to please Him

    Jesus indeed knows our works = our actions that carry out our inner desires, intensions and purposes. so indeed He knows our hearts – the origin of our actions : He knows if we have fallen from grace (put ourselves back under the law) – by believing we have to work FOR God to become worthy enough to be blessed… or if we are living in His grace by faith – by carrying out the works OF God, letting Him work through us to accomplish HIS purposes

    • Jennie I never said we had to work for salvation. What is true according to the word of God however is that faith without works is dead. Every born again believer of Jesus Christ ought to have evidence in their lives that they know Jesus.

      • yes, faith w/o works is dead. james is saying that faith is believing and acting like you believe.
        so, why do believers act like they aren’t? i think the problem is that a lot of them only know half of the good news – that Jesus died for our sins and saved us from going to hell… but they haven’t heard that we have also been made the righteousness of God by being placed IN Christ – that as He is, so are we in this world! the good news of grace is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes the good news (rom 1:16) right believing leads to right living – when we believe that we are made righteous in Christ, the result is that we live righteously.

      • hey don – maybe this series will help?

  9. Hi,

    Is it possible that based on what you’ve said here, “Cold” can be people under Grace, and “Hot” can be people trying to achieve righteousness through Law. So Jesus says you can be Cold / under grace or hot/ achieve the law 100%. But knowing what we all know, that nobody can adhere to the standards of the law, it makes you lukewarm.. possible?

  10. Paul, I thank God for the way He has equipped you to answer graciously and wisely those who are still in the grace plus works’s an impossible situation for them to be at rest in …I’ve been there and know it’s an appalling place to be in. The “what if I’m not hot enough”…”what if I haven’t done this or that ” places a burden on us that Christ came to free us from. Romans 8v1 says “NOW” there is no adjudging guilty or wrong for those who are in Christ Jesus…who live and walk not after the flesh (that whole way of thinking and being apart from the Spirit of God)…but after the dictates of the Spirit. and the mind of the Spirit is life and peace (both now and forever)..The Spirit of God within us will produce the good works

  11. “Jesus does not vomit out body parts”
    Quote of the week!

  12. Really good thanks Paul.

  13. I think it’s important to remember that this was a real church in a real city that once existed. The letter was written to them, not to us, (although we can obviously learn from it – like we can with Galatians or Ephesians, although we need to know the original context to understand what is being spoken about). Laodicea was situated between two other cities which were tourist attractions – one had hot sulphur springs, renowned for their healing properties; the other was known for their ice cold glacier rivers which had (has) restaurants etc built around, so that hot weary travellers could find food, refreshing and cool rest. Both of those cities were known for their hospitality. Laodicea wasn’t – and the letter is saying that the church was manifesting the same spirit as the city it was in – it had closed doors, was not hospitable, was not offering healing waters or refreshing streams (spiritually) – it would have been better to be one or the other – hot or cold – both types of water are needed. So, unlike it’s often preached, its not about being “on fire” for God versus being spiritually dead.

  14. This is really good, but I don’t like how he uses The Message bible as a translation – it’s not

  15. underhiswings // February 7, 2015 at 7:40 pm // Reply

    i would rather have you cold meaning not doing anything for christ but at least your saved and have excepted him…or hot or on fire but because you are lukewarm..your are neither because you think you have everything.(.increased with Goods) you figure what do i need God for..they were self righteous and never excepted the son they will be spued out..meaning rejected because they are naked and have no covering for their sins..he is knocking at their door trying to get in …they are not saved!!!God will never reject his son..

  16. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I think the answer is in verse 20 where Jesus says that he is at the door meaning that Jesus was no longer IN that Church, in fact, He told them to buy white garments so these people were not living by faith or by grace or by love or by trusting and resting in Jesus’ sacrifice that is why Jesus told them to open the door . . . God bless you!

  17. I almost hate to ask, Was the Laodicea “church” Christian believers that got spew you out of His mouth?

  18. Gosh this is good! My brain is hurting trying to take it all in, but my heart is smiling! Liberating. Thank you.

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