Why does Jesus wish we were cold?

“You gotta be hot, hot, hot for Jesus! You gotta get enthusiastic in evangelizing the lost. You gotta get on fire with passion for the Lord.” This is a message I used to preach, yet it is only half of what Jesus said. “You are neither cold or hot but lukewarm. I wish that you were cold or hot” (Rev. 3:15-16).

Wait, what? Cold is the opposite of hot. If hot is good, how can cold be good too? I have heard some silly answers to this one over the years.

“It is better to be dead in your sins than a half-hearted Christian.” Um, no, it’s not. Why would Jesus wish anyone to be dead in their sins?

“It is better to be coldly opposed to God, than on the fence.” Even if that were true, why would Jesus wish you were coldly opposed to God?

“Jesus is talking about extreme passion. Being really cold is exactly like being really hot.” Except it’s not. Hot and cold are opposites; they are not the same.

“It’s because of the aqueduct. Laodicea got hot water from Hierapolis and cold water from Colossae. History explains the metaphor.” This is a well-known story, but it’s not true (the aqueduct story is a myth). Even if it were, it doesn’t explain the metaphor.

This hot and cold passage is surely one of the most mangled metaphors in scripture. So what is Jesus really saying?

What is cold and hot?

There’s nothing colder than an unfeeling heart deadened by the implacable demands of the law, and there’s nothing hotter than a heart burning with the white-hot love of our heavenly Father. To be cold is to live under the stone-cold statutes of the law. To be hot is to live in the sunny warmth of your Father’s loving embrace. It’s basking in the white-hot passion of God’s wild and uncontainable love and reveling in his grace.

What does it mean to be neither cold nor hot?

Jesus is talking about mixture. Cold is cold and hot is hot and the Laodiceans were neither. They had not fully submitted to either law or grace. Had they been living under the death-dealing law, they would have been as cold as corpses, for a rigid law makes frigid followers. And if they had been walking in the sunshine of God’s love, they would have been warmed by his grace.

Why does Jesus wish we were cold?

Because the cold law reveals our need for hot grace.

Some have said that being cold refers to cool, refreshing works. But Jesus is speaking about people, not deeds. “I wish you were cold.”

Cold is what you are when you live 24/7 under a cold and unforgiving law. It’s recognizing that God has a zero-tolerance policy, and that he who keeps the whole law but stumbles on one point will be judged as guilty of all (Jas. 2:10).

He sends forth his commandment to the earth… who can stand before his cold? (Psalm 147:15, 17, AMP)

Like an icy blizzard, the unforgiving law is harsh on human flesh. No one can stand before it, and by it all are condemned. So why does Jesus wish the Laodiceans were cold? Because the merciless mirror of God’s law reveals our shortcomings and shame. It exposes our nakedness and condemns us as sinners in need of grace.

We know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:19, 23)

You may say, “I’m not perfect, but I’m basically a good person,” and the law replies, “You are not good enough. A holy God demands perfection and nothing less. As we hear the chilling rebuke of the law, winter descends. Our hearts are numbed and our mouths are frozen shut. That’s the bad news of Romans 3:23, but the good news follows in the next verse: “All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). The law condemns the best of us, but grace redeems even the worst of us.

Why does Jesus wish we were hot?

Because he loves us and he wants us to receive his love.

Contrary to what some have preached (myself included), being hot has nothing to do with having zealous faith or being on fire for God or being busy. The problem with approaching God on the basis of zeal is it’s all relative. You may think you’re hot stuff. “I fast every week and give a tenth of all I have.” But compared to the guy who fasts and gives twice as much you’re only lukewarm. You may have led 100 people to Jesus, but compared to renowned evangelists like Reinhard Bonnke, you’re a lackadaisical slacker.

Even if you were the most on-fire believer in the world, even if you could out-Bonnke Bonnke, do you think God would be impressed? Can you imagine the Almighty saying to the angels, “Look at this firecracker! Clear the seat next to Jesus because this guy is the Guy.” It’s not going to happen.

Being hot has nothing to do with whatever heat we can manufacture and everything to do with the burning heart of God. If we are hot, it is because our Father makes us so. His love shines on us, warming us to the very core of our being.

Jesus does not wish the Laodiceans were more enthusiastic or effective, although those are good things. His desire is that they would know and enjoy his love. The message is similar to that given to the Ephesians, but with one important difference. The Ephesians had known but had wandered from the love of Christ. In contrast, the Laodiceans had never experienced it. They had never opened their hearts to the love of the Lord.

Adapted from Paul Ellis’s forthcoming book, Letters from Jesus: Finding Good News in Christ’s Letters to the Churches

20 Comments on Why does Jesus wish we were cold?

  1. It’s funny Paul. I’m reminded about this truth almost every day. Every time I get in the shower and tweak the handle to get the temperature just right, I know there is no lukewarm water to pull from. There is only a cold and a hot line flowing to the handle. It’s the mixing of the 2 at the right amounts that gives me the middle temperature. God has not offered mixture to us. We take what has been given (Law from Moses and Grace from Jesus) and mix them. Jesus says no, “Patewy!” The purpose of the law is to lead us to Christ. And then we walk into the new life with him and leave the law behind. Amen!

  2. Bruce Fulton // March 7, 2019 at 1:14 am // Reply

    This interpretation makes the most “spiritual” sense. This aligns with the rest of the revelation of the love and grace of God in Christ’s work on the cross and resurrection. Unfortunately religion and the carnal mind of man always gets the things of God and His ways and the gospel backwards. Thank you Paul.

  3. When I got your book, I couldn’t wait to get to the chapter on the church at Laodicea. I used to not like that story. I didn’t understand it. All the different churches and denominations I had gone to explained it the same way. Hot meant totally loving/obeying God. Lukewarm meant only partially loving/obeying God. And 99% of the them never mentioned anything about cold. But I like to think about things, and logically there is one and only one thing that being cold could mean – not loving/obeying God at all. And it made no sense why Jesus would rather that.

    Then I happened upon Joseph Prince on TV and the message of grace started to sink in. When he did a sermon on the lukewarm church and said hot is trusting God’s grace and cold is trusting doing the law and lukewarm is mixing the two, he gave scriptures supporting those ideas. And when he said that if you trust doing the law to make you righteous (being cold), you will eventually see that you can’t be perfect enough and will see your need for a savior. And Jesus wants that.

    That just clicked and made perfect sense and I became convinced that grace IS the Gospel. Which doesn’t mean you stop doing good things. It changes the reason for doing good things. Doing good isn’t the root that makes you righteous, it’s the fruit that comes from being made righteous by Jesus.

    • That’s precisely it, Mark. The Laodiceans had just enough law to make them self-righteous, but not enough to make them recognize their need for the gift of righteousness that comes through Jesus. Becoming self-righteous or lukewarm, is the chief danger of preaching cheap law today.

    • Thank you, for this view, Love it, makes sense

  4. Words matter…

    Question: Is Jesus statement in Rev 3: 15-16 not heard differently by all who read so many differing translations? Just aside: no wonder there are 10,000’s of denoms in Christendom.

    Jesus by his love for us… he doesn’t push us away but disciplines us. I’m not convinced there is a sense of “wish” [something that isn’t likely to happen] in Jesus disciplining tone here.

    Notice him [as we read a little before & after this] saying, in light of your experience in me to this point (Laodicea); not only the things I have taught you but you know [see & care for] me… What is your “will” that you are ignoring the deeds/works [v15] i have designed for you to do?

    Instead, you’re (Laodicea) wallowing in the provisions I give you. Is that the stewardship you have come know from my character? I’m telling you now, you are acting as though your were absolutely poor. Your provisions you will always have in some fashion. Enjoy them but turn (repent) away from this attitude that my Salvation gift to you is more about my provisions; it’s not! My character was always to reach out & point those around me to the Father.

  5. I appreciate your interpretation of this verse, Paul. I view it a little differently. I think Jesus is saying “I want you all to be passionate about Me and the things (people) I care about, because I want to touch the world through you.” Perhaps the reason He would rather have someone cold than lukewarm is because cold people (extremely lost and ignorant) are in a perfect position to turn to Him, in which case they would immediately become hot, as we see happen all the time. Addicts, alcoholics, criminals, etc. (cold people) become on fire for Jesus once they discover they have a Heavenly Father who loves them passionately and has a very different plan to replace their dead end life. Take the apostle Paul, the woman at the well, etc. That’s my take on it. God is passionate about everything He does. Once we know His extreme love for us we become “extremists” too, for Him and the people He loves and wants a relationship with. He can’t do much with lukewarm.

    • Thank you for your comment, Lisa. The problem with passion and zeal is they are subjective terms that lead us to performance-based measures of righteousness, while the gospel declares that righteousness is a free gift. If you are a semi-passionate believer, you are infinitely better off than a passionate Christian-killer like Saul.

      • Thanks for your response Paul. I think I’ll set aside your sentence implying I’m comparing lukewarm believers to Christian killers.

        The Word of God lays out the plan of God for all believers. “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature…” with signs following. In my case and many others, passion and zeal for Christ did not lead to “performance based measures of righteousness.” I minister in prisons out of compassion for lost and hurting people, which only comes from knowing how forgiven and loved I am and wanting to share Him….knowing it is Christ in me who even gives me the compassion.

        Maybe we could agree that some people with passion and zeal are just filled with His Spirit and desire to be vessels of His love to others.

      • Haha, I was only using your example (Saul). I certainly agree that passion is important and that it comes from a revelation of all Christ has done for us and not from a sense of obligation.

      • I just wanted to say, wow, as only Father knows each heart. As I know how many times I made judgments and have been so far of the truth of what is going on inside another. As we each battle from inside to outside in finding out truth

        For we see by the outer, as Father sees all from inside out to each one that has been and might be still or caught up again in their own demise, as we might refer to Cane and Abel, as I saw in that word, God told Cane sin crouched at his door, that he could chill and start all over
        Yet the thoughts cane I see he received from Satan, lucifer, he went ahead and killed his brother, still going on today by thought(s) as revealed in Proverbs 23:1-7
        Thanks to be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove Sister

    • Thank you I like this view too, for when his mercy and kindness hits one it turns them it did me when I got to see Romans 2:1-4, was cursing others in from Romans 1. How sad of me to ever think I got it together, only God has that for us to see and stand in
      Thanks

    • Lisa, Back to “doing”, again, though…

  6. Mixture is the cause of much confusion.

  7. Brandon Petrowski // March 7, 2019 at 12:53 pm // Reply

    I can see this perspective being true. I had heard Jesus wishing we were hot or cold is because hot and cold can both be refreshing, and hot and cold are free of bacteria. The risk of disease came from drinking lukewarm liquids, but really cold or hot was free from the risk of contamination.

  8. Bill Snell // March 8, 2019 at 5:30 am // Reply

    Excellent treatise on a very misunderstood and misinterpreted subject.

  9. Jonathan Lontoc // March 9, 2019 at 4:11 pm // Reply

    That verse has always confused me. What else can I say? Your explanation makes perfect sense! Thanks Paul.

  10. Thanks. This helped me think more clearly on the subject that was often used to wake up believers to activity (and possibly toward the wrong direction).
    Writing down few conclusions, in the context of whole Jesus’ message to Laodicea, to be checked by elders …
    1. So the mixture of relying partly on grace, and partly on your own endeavors to please God (which this church obviously did), is the one that brings these false, proud feelings of being rich and needing nothing (since persistent human work, even spiritual, usually does bring some visible results in which one can boast).
    2. On the other side, Jesus’ healing recipe (faith in the promise of God’s grace only, purified through trials as gold & pure clothes washed only in the Blood & the freely given, not earned with piety, anointing by the Spirit of grace) would root people in pure God’s grace only, and make them really hot for Jesus.
    3. Also the goodness (the grace) of God is the only one that leads to true repentance.
    4. Now it’s also easier to explain the commandment “to be zealous (hot) and repent” – actually Jesus commands us to be hot for this great goodness of God. Actually it makes His goodnes even greater when we also consider the severity of God (Rom 11:22) toward those who reject His grace.
    To me it all makes much more sense now, and few my observations prove it, too. Thanks again Paul.

  11. The thirsty can always find wells of Love and Grace on this website!!! Thank you!!!

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