Rev 3:20 – The knocking at the Door

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Now that is a great evangelistic verse isn’t? Well actually no it’s not, although you would think it was given the way that some have used this verse. I remember a couple of years ago now hearing this verse used by an open air preacher in expounded the gospel. Now I understand why you would use this verse for such a reason, but to do so is to actually pull this verse out of it’s context and strip it of it’s intended meaning and the grave warning that it carries with it.

Our verse in Revelation, forms part of a message given to the church in Laodicea, this is the red flag, the context setter that should point to our verse not dealing with evangelism. So if it doesn’t deal with evangelism then what is this verse talking about?

The letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3, to which our focus passage is part of, are report cards from Jesus to seven churches. There is the church in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Phiadelphia and Laodicea. Some of these churches get a good report, some not so good and some are quite bad. To the church in Laodicea Jesus says…

I know your works: you are neither cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

I don’t know what your school reports were like, but I don’t think I would have liked to take this sort of report home to my parents.

Warren Wiersebe says that..

In the Christian life, there are three “spiritual temperatures”: a burning heart, on fire for God (Luke 24:32), a cold heart (Matt 24:32), and a lukewarm heart (Rev 3:16). The lukewarm Christian is comfortable, complacent, and does not realize his need. If he were cold, at least he would feel it! Both the cold water from Colossae and the hot water from Hieropolis would be lukewarm by the time it was piped to Laodicea.

The Bible Exposition Commentary

So in calling the church at Laodicea ‘lukewarm’ Jesus is saying that they have gotten comfortable, complacent and doesn’t realise it’s need, or even worse probably doesn’t see the need around it. It has ceased to function in the way that God desires it’s church to function. Something that is lukewarm is tepid, it is not refreshing, in terms of beverages we either have them hot or cold – some drinks should only be served hot, some cold. Wiersbe adds..

The second law of thermodynamics requires that a “closed system” eventually moderates so that no more energy is being produced. Unless something is added from the outside, the system decays and dies. Without added fuel, the hot water in the boiler becomes cool; without electricity, the refrigerant in the freezer becomes warm.

The Bible Exposition Commentary

Churches aren’t meant to be closed systems, they require the Spirit to give life, energy and power, to keep the fire burning to keep them effective in ministry and stop them from cooling, from becoming tepid, and unfruitful. There are many reasons why churches become closed systems, why they become lukewarm, one of those is that when the Spirit is replaced with rules and legalism becomes the rule of thumb, where it is the leaders who decide what will and won’t happen, what direction to go or not go in. When numbers of bums on seats become the main focus, Jesus and the Spirit are inevitably sidelined, and over time the fire becomes to cool and the embers die out.

As a result of this Jesus says that “I will spit you out of my mouth” he is not talking here about them loosing their salvation, but rather a loss of effective ministry. For a church, a gathered body of God’s people this is not good. A church that is not in effective ministry, that is not reaching the lost, glorifying God, building up the body and making disciples is a church on a downward slide, a church that will eventually end up lifeless and dead.

But in Revelation 3:19, right before our verse Jesus says…

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent

This is not the end for this church, Jesus’ heart to see them restored to fruitful labour and effective ministry, and as such he gives them a warning, he seeks to discipline them so as to restore – this is the goal of church discipline, not to excommunicate someone, but to restore them to fellowship and fruitful service in Christ. Then we read verse 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 eat with him, and he with me.

Here is Jesus, not standing on the outside of an unbelievers heart knocking to be invited in, but standing outside of the church in Laodicea, outside a gathering of his people. Consider it like this, in Acts 12:6-19 Peter is arrested and put in prison by Herod, like all good Christian people a prayer meeting was called and many interceded for Peter to be released, and while this happening we read in vs.7-10, that an angel appeared to Peter and released him from prison. Following this Peter goes to the house of Mary, where some of the disciples had gathered to pray and knocks on the door and we read.. when he knocked at the door of the gateway a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. Recognising Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed.

I find this story at points to be quite funny, but also quite sad – a gathering of God’s people come together to pray for Peter’s release only to show disbelief when what they prayed for happens. I guess this is a good picture of many churches today, we ask without believing in faith for what we are asking for. But here God is gracious and acts and ultimately as Peter knocks the door is opened and he is invited in.

If we parallel this to Revelation 3 and the church at Laodicea Peter, is outside knocking, but no one hears, no one comes and opens the door, the meeting continues, the people still pray, but Peter is left outside. This is what Jesus is saying is happening at Laodicea. The people are gathering together, but Jesus is standing on the outside knocking – no one is hearing no one is coming to open the door. It is a really really sad thing that this church has shut out the one who is their purpose for gathering. But also just like in this passage in Acts 12, it only takes one person to hear, one person to hear Jesus knocking and come and open the door, one person to let Jesus in and great things can result from that.

The result of this is restored fellowship with Jesus, that is what Jesus means when I says I will come in to him and eat with him and he with me. It is a picture of fellowship. But this is to be preceded by an act of humble repentance and a seeking after God.

We may like this verse a lot, we may like to use this as a gospel picture, but it is not a gospel. John 6:44 tells us that when it comes to evangelism, the gospel and salvation Jesus isn’t standing knocking on the door of the hearts of unbelievers to be let in, but rather unless the Father draws the unbeliever to Christ, they will not and cannot accept God’s gracious offer of salvation and enter in eternal life.


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