“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.” -Revelation 3:20
For many years, I read this as a “salvation” verse. Jesus is knocking on the door of the hearts of the unsaved, asking to come in. To me, it represented individual free will regarding the choice each must make as to whether or not to answer Jesus’ knock which was accompanied by his promise of what he will do for the one who does choose to open the door. It was a picture of Jesus respectfully waiting for an invitation to save us. Then, I read the context.
This verse comes at the end of Jesus’ personal messages to seven specific churches, as conveyed to and related by the Apostle John. In Revelation 1:13, John sees Jesus “in the midst” of these churches. These words, “in the midst”, are the same words used in Matthew 18:20 where Jesus promised that, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” These messages were given by Jesus to different groups of those who were gathered in his name.
The church in Laodicea is the last church of the seven to whom Jesus spoke. He begins by identifying himself to them as the Amen and the faithful and true witness, emphasizing that what he was about to say regarding them was trustworthy, and intimating that they would likely disagree. Then, in verse 15, he launches into what could be called a diagnosis:
“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.’”
This church, gathered in Jesus’ name, held one picture of who they were while Jesus himself held quite another. They were supremely satisfied with themselves. They were fat and happy with what they thought they had achieved. Jesus quotes them as saying, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” Take note of all of those I’s! Their focus was on their own accomplishments and they were completely unaware of anything they lacked. The Laodicean Church was neither coldly against Christ nor were they burning with passion for him. They simply felt no need of him at all, and because of that he warns them that he will spit them out of his mouth.
Jesus then exposes their true condition, the way he sees them. They are actually wretched. The Greek word used denotes the formation of calluses. They are miserable to the point of being pitiable. They are poor to the point of being deeply destitute. They are blind, physically and/or mentally. They are naked, or, as the Greek word implies, wearing only underwear, poorly clad. They could not have been more off base about their real status. They were in utter denial.
Jesus could have ended his message there, in contempt. Instead, mercifully, in verse 18, he tells them what they need to do:
“‘I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.’”
The need here is clear. True riches come only from clinging, through fiery trials, to the sufficiency of Christ alone. The only true covering for the shame of one’s nakedness is that of the white garments of Christ’s righteousness. Only the Holy Spirit can open one’s eyes to the continuing need of Christ’s forgiveness, grace and mercy. The question is, how can a destitute wretch “buy” these things from Christ? What currency can be used for the purchase?
Jesus supplies the answer in verse 19, “‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.’”
Repentance is the currency, and the very message Jesus is giving to this church is his means of supplying that currency for them. He loves his church and because of that, he is reproving and disciplining them for believing that they no longer have need of him, that the work he did for them is in the past. He is showing the church their folly in thinking that they are now acceptable based on what they have done. He is revealing the insufficiency of the works in which they have placed their trust.
Let that sink in. This is a church that was no longer trusting in the sufficiency of Christ alone, who thought that they were clothed in righteousness, when they were in their underwear. This is a church that felt no need. No need, until Jesus’ message was sent to bring them to repentance.
Now we finally come back to the verse where Jesus is knocking at the door. Well, almost. First, I need to go back for a minute to the message Jesus sent to the church just prior to this one.
To the church in Philadelphia, Jesus presented himself as the one, “‘who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.’” Then he says to them, “‘Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.’” To this church, Jesus is the one with the keys to the kingdom. He tells them that he has unlocked the door to salvation and reconciliation with God. He has opened the door to eternal life, and assures them that no one will ever be able to shut that door.
Contrast that with where we now find Jesus in verse 20 of Revelation chapter 3. He is at a different door, the door of the Church in Laodicea, and he is on the outside, knocking! Why is Jesus presenting himself as being on the outside of the church, knocking on the door, rather than using his keys, or perhaps breaking it down? I suggest it is because, prior to this message, this arrogant, self-sufficient church had figuratively pushed him out that door and shut it in his face. They may have still been gathering in his name, but the focus of their worship was on themselves.
Jesus’ call is to those behind that church door, and it is now personal. It is to anyone who hears his voice and opens the door. It is to anyone in the church who is “repented” by Jesus’ message and whose eyes are open to their true condition and desperate, continuing need of all that Jesus has to offer. To anyone who responds, Jesus promises, “‘I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.’”
Revelation 3 then concludes with this still pertinent admonition: “‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”