Revelation 3:20. Its a verse many of us not only know but can quote by heart. Its also a verse that is almost always used out of context.
For some time I have been thinking of writing a short article on the context and meaning of the verse, not only for the good of my own soul (my own thoughts tend to become much clearer when I write them down) but hopefully, for the benefit of others too. Yet today, as I made my morning venture out into the blogosphere, I came across an article that said all I ever wished to say about the verse and said it very well. So, I thought to myself, “Self… rather than taking the time to try to say the same thing using different words (to avoid plagiarism), why not simply quote the article and let all be blessed by it, the same way you were?” So, that is what I do here. I found the article to be a real blessing and pass it on, trusting it will be the same for you.
The Thirsty Theologian writes:
On the wall of one of the churches I attended as a child hung a picture of a fair-haired gentile knocking on a door. We all knew it was Jesus, seeking entrance at our heart’s door, as in Revelation 3:20.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.
Time and time again, we were taught that Jesus was standing, waiting, knocking, waiting, knocking, just hoping to be invited into our hearts.
Time after time He has waited before
And now He is waiting again
To see if you are willing to open the door
Oh, how He wants to come in.
This image of the pathetic, pleading Jesus has no doubt coaxed multitudes down aisles to dubious conversions. But what if it’s all fiction? What if Jesus is not standing at some door to our hearts? Rather than pulling one verse out of context because it looks so nice on a tract, let’s examine the entire passage.
14 To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. 21 He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
The church at Laodicea was very much like a great many churches today. It was an apostate body, unregenerate, no true church at all. The Lord points to their deeds, observing that they “are neither cold nor hot.” This figure is a metaphor for water, which, when hot or cold, has many uses, but when lukewarm is not good for much. He wishes they were one or the other, because that would indicate the good fruit of a good tree (Matthew 7:16–20). But they are, figuratively, lukewarm — not good for washing, not good for drinking — so Christ will spit them out like warm, stagnant water. Bad trees get cut down, bad water gets spit out on the ground. This was the Laodicean church.
To make matters worse, they were self-righteous. They thought themselves rich when they were, in fact, spiritually “poor and blind and naked.” This is the state of the unregenerate. They are naked, and blind to their nakedness. This, again, was the Laodicean church. They were spiritually naked, but they thought they were dressed in rich robes of their own making.
At this point, Jesus could have simply passed judgment. If the Laodiceans didn’t deserve to be cut down and burned, no one ever would. But Christ extended grace, delayed the day of judgment, and called them to repentance. Notice now that this is no pleading Savior. His knock is a command, and spare me the “Jesus is a gentleman” nonsense. This is a take-it-or-leave-it command to turn to him in repentance and faith. Notice also that this is not the door to any individual’s heart.
Though this verse has been used in countless tracts and evangelistic messages to depict Christ’s knocking on the door of the sinner’s heart, it is broader than that. The door on which Christ is knocking is not the door to a single human heart, but to the Laodicean church. Christ was outside this apostate church and wanted to come in—something that could only happen if the people repented.
The invitation is, first of all, a personal one, since salvation is individual. But He is knocking on the door of the church, calling the many to saving faith, so that He may enter the church. If one person (anyone) opened the door by repentance and faith, Christ would enter that church through that individual. The picture of Christ outside the Laodicean church strongly implies that, unlike the Sardis, there were no believers there at all.
Christ’s offer to dine with the repentant church speaks of fellowship, communion, and intimacy. Sharing a meal in ancient times symbolized the union of the people in loving fellowship. Believers will dine with Christ at the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:9), and in the millennial kingdom (Luke 22:16, 29-30). Dine is from deipneo, which refers to the evening meal, the last meal of the day (cf. Luke 7:8; 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25, where the underlying Greek is rendered “sup,” “supper,” and “supped,” respectively). The Lord Jesus Christ urged them to repent and have fellowship with Him before the night of judgment fell and it was too late forever.
—John MacArthur, MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Revelation 1–21 (Moody, 1999), 140.
I thank God that Jesus was never waiting for me to let him in, for if he had been, he still would be. I would never have let him in. And this is should be an obvious tip-off to the error of the popular interpretation of verse 20: nowhere in Scripture is there any hint that Christ needs our acceptance. No, it is we who need to be made acceptable to God. My salvation was never dependent on me accepting him, but on him making me acceptable to the Father. That is what the gospel is all about. It is what Christ accomplished on the cross.