Lukewarm :: By Tom Hoffman

The following article is an expository of the Lukewarm church described by Jesus in Revelation 3:14-22. I believe this particular letter describes many, if not a majority, of local churches today regarding their work in impacting the world today for the cause of Christ.

The urgency of the return of the Lord is for 1) the church world-wide, 2) local churches, 3) born-again believers, and 4) those who have yet to put their trust in Jesus Christ.

Obviously, Jesus has a lot to say about the Lukewarm church. I feel compelled to remind readers of the danger that we might not even see today because of how ingrained we are to the modern culture and traditions of attending church. I pray you find this reminder a blessing in your spiritual walk.

Let’s get started with verses 15-16.

“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”

Our Lord Jesus has a strong knowledge of our spiritual condition. This is true of us as born-again individuals, or as a corporate body. He requires that we be ‘hot’ in our spiritual walk with Him. He desires that we approach Him all in, and not just sometimes committed to what we know is right and just as we walk this earth.

According to Revelation 3:8, Jesus acknowledges we will not always have superman-type strength – but wants us to do our best to keep His Word in our journey as a Christian.

And what is particularly nauseating to our Savior is a lukewarm attitude, promising to vomit them out of His mouth should they stay on this course. They appear to be alive but they’re not led by the Lord at all. He is standing outside offering to come in if they will invite Him. But they’re concerned with worldly things rather than Him. The lukewarm church is in danger of complete rejection by the ‘First and the Last which is cited three times in Revelation 1.

Can you imagine, in today’s world, the Lord Jesus completely rejecting any of the local churches around the world who profess to being a ‘Christian church’?

I think the answer is YES; many churches today have become lukewarm and will experience God’s judgment as we move ever-more closely to His return.

The local church does well to remember the warning cast by Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

“Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked — I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see” (Revelation 3:17-18).

I learned a very important concept while completing my graduate work in my 30s. The concept is known as Johari’s Window.

Do you know the term?

Wikipedia asserts: “The Johari window is a technique that helps people better understand their relationship with themselves and others. It was created by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955. They named their model ‘Johari’ using a combination of their first names.”

Basically, the concept reveals that many of us see ourselves differently than the people around us. And that is what Jesus is referring to here in the passage. The local church sees itself very much differently than Jesus sees them. In fact, the differences are polar opposite.

In other words, the window in which the local church sees itself is often very different than the window through which Jesus sees. This is a very dangerous practice by born-again believers and by local churches who profess to be Christian.

Jesus counsels the local church in ways they would understand. For example, we know that gold, garments, and eye salve were all chief exports of the Lukewarm church. In other words, Jesus used language to touch a nerve with them, to reproach and redirect them.

If they would simply enact the spiritual dimensions of gold, white garments, and eye salve … they would see clearly their misdirection and repent.

Just as many local churches need to do today before it is too late.

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore, be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19).

Still, we see the tenderness of Jesus. He doesn’t condemn (yet). He is in relationship with the Lukewarm church, and as any parent does with his or her own children, He rebukes and chastens.

He fiercely wants the Lukewarm church to change direction because of His unconditional love. Jesus demonstrates this very concept throughout his ministry here on earth. And then he tells the local church exactly what to do.

Local churches who are Lukewarm must be zealous and repent.

Many of you know the story of Francis Chan. To give you a hint, here is one social media podcast headline dated February 16, 2019, “The Former Megachurch Pastor is Going Back to the Basics.” 1

Twenty-five years ago, Chan started Cornerstone Church out of his living room in Southern California.  Today it has thousands attending every weekend. They started their own university and started many, many ministries for the community. By all measures, Chan was seen as very faithful and extremely successful in his role as a megachurch pastor.

So why did he leave? Here are some reasons Chan cited in the same podcast about why he Left Cornerstone Church:

After going overseas to Asia for a couple months and immersing into third-world churches, Chan sensed he was being called by God to start a new paradigm, and do a new way of church in the United States.

Chan sensed the Spirit wanting God’s people to focus on God’s mission more than their own families.

Chan identified the Spirit’s desired focus on people’s repenting and returning to what He wants the local church to be – primarily returning to what scripture says and not what traditions have created.

In a compelling statement, Chan wonders if the local church has become ‘illiterate’ when it comes to scripture.

Has the local church become scripture illiterate?

I’m not saying that Chan has it all right. But think about what he did. With a zealousness seldom seen today, he quit a high-profile church and retreated to Asia to ponder the things of God. And then he returned to the United States armed with a fresh vision of what the local church should be: vibrant, not lukewarm.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20).

This verse remains so fresh for many of us.

It strikes me funny that Jesus would say this particular statement to a Lukewarm church. Isn’t this more appropriate for the individual unbeliever?

I believe this scripture is more about inviting the Lukewarm church (in Revelation and today) to better understand what it is going to be like to fellowship together in His coming kingdom here on earth (Revelation 20:4-6).

Regardless, it is clear that Jesus extends invitations not only to individuals but to local churches as well.

“To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21).

What did Jesus overcome? I’m inclined to say humiliation here on earth, to be beaten and crucified by his own people, conspiring with the Roman army. He also overcame, by the power of the Father, death itself. He certainly overcame the temptation of sin (Matthew 4:1-11) and remained sinless in His life on earth.

And what must the local church overcome?

I believe it is the same specific themes Jesus taught all seven churches in Revelation 2-3:

Loveless church – Though very solid in the eyes of Jesus, they had to be reminded of their original mission as a local church – to love one another.

Persecuted church – Again, Jesus encourages them in their work but foretells them that they will experience significant persecution as a local church.

Compromising church – Jesus sees that their work has been compromised, and the local church becomes a stumbling block and allows sin to creep into it and become accepted practices.

Corrupt church – Corruption comes through sexual immorality and idolatry – both which cast a dark spell on today’s local church (pornography and materialism, for example).

Dead church – Jesus reveals to this local church that only a handful of people are living a spirit-filled life.

Faithful church – I love what Jesus informs this church – that because they have kept His command to persevere – they will be kept from the ‘hour of trial’ which is to come to test the whole earth. (I believe this is telling us who live in the final days that we will be kept from the seven-year Tribulation through the Rapture.)

And, of course, we already see the systematic failing of the Lukewarm church.

But there is an overriding command for all seven churches, except two, and that is to repent. In order to serve a holy and perfect God, five of the seven churches are specifically told to repent of their current ways.

I can’t think of a more perfect way to conclude this article than to use the very voice of the Apostle John in verse 22.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Tom Hoffman