The city of Laodicea was founded around 260 BC, in the Lycus River valley in what is now Turkey. It was a bustling city known for its great wealth from medicine, textiles/wool, and finance. It was so wealthy that when it suffered a major earthquake in 60 AD, they refused the support of the Empire and financed their own rebuild.
Laodicea had it all - except water. So they constructed two aqueducts. One sourced from the cold mountain water of Colosse, and the other flowed from the hot springs of Hierapolis. However, by the time the cold fresh mountain water from Colosse and the hot, healing waters from Hierapolis flowed through the aqueducts, the water had become lukewarm.
This provides some context for the images that John writes concerning the Laodicean Church in Revelation 3:14-22. The Spirit of the Lord challenges them on their self-sufficiency stemming from their wealth. They think they are rich because of their finance, textile and eye medicine, but the Lord sees them as blind, bankrupt, and threadbare. We also find this strong statement: I wish you were hot or cold, but because you are lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth!
The image of cold speaks of the refreshing that cold mountain water brings. Likewise, hot speaks of the healing, therapeutic aspect of the hot springs. They are neither refreshing or therapeutic - they are lukewarm Christians.
The religious elite of Jesus' day had some lofty thoughts about God, they knew the scriptures well and lived with moral excellence. They had become comfortable, all about their traditions, interpretations, practices, and knowledge but missed the very Messiah they had been anticipating. In spite of their religious prosperity, they were neither refreshing to others (cold) nor were they healing and comforting (hot).
So what could this mean for us as a church today? What if lukewarm is where we are no longer refreshing to others, or no longer healing and a comfort to folks? Is this the same as salt losing its saltiness? Could it be that sometimes despite all our great doctrines, practices and traditions we have subtly lost sight of Jesus and His mission? The place where to love God and love others as Jesus loves us becomes a mere platitude or a sappy sentiment? To do so is to be lukewarm.
I am not diminishing the importance of healthy theology or healthy practice, but they are not an end unto themselves. They posture us towards someone and something greater - Jesus and His mission. This posture helps free us from the trap of self-righteousness that is often so darn intoxicating and yet makes us so lukewarm. Like the Church in Laodicea, we are invited deeper into a relationship with King Jesus. It is here that we discover what it means to buy gold refined in the fire, to be clothed in the garment of Heaven, and to buy medicine for our eyes so that we might see, really see! This is to be hot and therapeutic or cold and refreshing for a world that longs for good news that is actually Good News!