Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock

Q – Hey, I was wondering (look out) would you know which recording it was, where you taught on Rev 3:20?

I’ve searched the Q&A’s but found nothing regarding that subject. As you know, this is a much-abused verse for the “freewill” folks (along with John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9, and 1 Timothy 2:4). I would like to refresh myself as to the proper meaning behind the verse. Greg Laurie and others use this all the time when they are about to do an alter call and it drives me nuts because I know now that it’s taken out of context.

Jim – Since you asked, I went back and checked on our mp3 collection. It appears that that passage fell right at the end of our Thursday night eschatology series. When we resumed our mid-week teaching (a year later) we picked up at Chapter 4 without specifically addressing 3:20.

Nonetheless, I do remember teaching on that passage a time or two; so recordings do exist, but I don’t know where. That being the case, and inasmuch as I haven’t addressed it in our Q&A section, I’m happy for the opportunity to pull it apart and put it back together.

Here’s the text under consideration:

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

The most common error associated with this verse is the notion that “the door” Jesus mentioned is actually the door to a sinner’s heart. Despite the utter lack of any such language in the text (or wider context), a plethora of paintings, postcards, three-dimensional holograms, and even TBN-style videos depict Jesus standing at a wooden door, humbly waiting and hoping to be admitted into some poor soul’s heart to do His saving work.

The other erroneous view of this verse is that, since this passage appears in the larger context of His words to the church at Laodicea, Jesus pictured Himself as standing at the door of that church, hoping to be granted admittance. In other words, Jesus was actually outside of His own church (Mat. 16:18), for which He gave His very life (Eph. 5:25), hoping that someone would acquiesce to let Him join them.

The problem with that interpretation is magnified when we look at the verse that follows Revelation 3:20:

“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.” (Rev. 3:21)

Jesus describes Himself, in this very context, as having overcome and being presently seated at the throne of God Almighty. Yet, we are to believe that He demonstrated none of that authority or power when dealing with the very church He supposedly exercised Lordship and mastery over.

Of course, those who know anything at all about the sovereignty of God imbued in Jesus Christ have a hard time imagining the King of the Universe in such an apparently impotent state. It is difficult to reconcile either of these images with the Jesus who prayed, “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.” (John 17:1-2)

The contrast is striking. Either He is indeed granted “power over all flesh,” or He is a humble beggar, standing at the door, waiting for someone to do something on His behalf, allowing Him to act.

The primary reason that so many folk stumble in their understanding of this verse is that our culture is dramatically different from First Century Middle Eastern culture. Only when we read Jesus’ words from the viewpoint of His original audience will we understand the import of what He was saying.

Knocking at a door was considered a form of importunity in most Middle Eastern cultures; and often still is. The familiar way to draw the attention of a friend inside his home was to call to him. To knock was a form of warning or sudden intrusion. We see several examples of this form of familiar “calling” in the Scripture. For instance:

“But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows,” (Matt. 11:16)

“There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee.” (Mark 3:31-32)

“Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there.” (Acts 10:17-18)

Both the passages from Mark and Acts clearly describe people standing outside the door, calling to the people within. This was the common practice of those who were showing themselves to be friendly or familiar.

This being the case, it is not insignificant that the Bible repeatedly makes use of terms such as “called” and “calling” to describe the relationship between God and His people. Being familiar, and having our relationship established by the finished work of Christ, we are called by the One who ever-loved us. And we respond because we are His chosen, out-called people.

All that being said, the more important question is: In the largest context, how does Jesus speak of “knocking”? And does He ever represent Himself as knocking in a passive, humble manner, awaiting some positive response from within?

The most obvious parallel to Revelation 3:20 found in the gospels is Luke 12:35-40, where Jesus adjures His listeners:

“Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

This is an eschatological passage. It is predicting the return of Christ and the state of His people Israel at the time of His sudden appearance. Without delving into all the prophetic details, notice that Jesus equated knocking with the Son of Man coming “at an hour you do not expect.” It is a jarring, unexpected occurrence. Jesus warns that when He knocks He expects someone to be watching and to open the door immediately. Those servants who are watching for the return of their master receive blessings. And what form does that blessing take? The Master will come in, gird Himself, and serve them to eat. He may come in the middle of the night; the second watch (between nine and midnight), or the third watch (between midnight and three a.m.). He expects the door to be locked and bolted. It’s nighttime. So, rather than call, He knocks. It’s sudden. It’s sharp. It’s importune. It’s like a thief suddenly breaking in.

That’s how Jesus views “knocking.”

Similarly, Jesus spoke of those who sought entrance to the Kingdom, but were locked out. Rather than calling, inasmuch as they were no longer welcome, they knocked at the door:

And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out.” (Luke 13:22-29)

Once again, Jesus spoke of knocking as something done by those outside who are desperate to get in; not of those who are humbly seeking entrance.

So then, what are we to make of Jesus saying that if anyone does open the door, He will come in and dine with them? This is a sign of dwelling together. It is directly parallel to the words Jesus spoke when answering a compelling question posed to Him by one of His apostles:

“Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, ‘Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.'” (John 14:22-24)

The relationship that Jesus consistently described between God and His people is one of family; Father and children, brethren with brethren, Christ as our elder brother. Those who love God and are loved by Him dwell continually with Him. Once the Holy Spirit takes up residence in a person, they become the permanent habitation of God. So, it is not surprising to hear Jesus draw the same parallel when warning and adjuring the Church at Laodicea.

And, of course, the culmination of every invitation to dine with Christ is found in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, the great blessing of union promised to the Church, the Bride of Christ:

Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!'” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.” (Rev. 19:9-10)

So, here are facts so far:

1) Knocking was a form of importunity in Jesus’ day and that is how He spoke of it.

2) “Calling” was the familial way to attract the attention of someone inside a house.

3) Jesus often spoke of dining together as a form of union between Him and His people; it was a form of blessing.

With those thoughts in mind, let’s read Revelation 3:20 in its context and see if our new understanding makes sense as part of the whole.

And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God …

The first thing Jesus did when writing to each of the seven churches of Asia was to establish some characteristic or attribute belonging to Him that matched the words, blessings, and judgments He pronounced to each body. In the case of Laodicea, he pointed out that He was “the Amen,” or the One who was verifiable, certain, genuine, and true. He was also “the Faithful,” so that even their faithlessness was no encumbrance to Him. And He was the “True Witness,” testifying to the things of God and laying down His life to signify that everything about Him and everything He said was trustworthy.

“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.”

Without delving into the details, this is undeniably a rebuke. You cannot read these words from Jesus without feeling His intensity. Far from standing at a door, hat in hand, hoping for someone to accept Him, Jesus is sternly forewarning this church that their indifference makes Him sick to the point of vomiting. Harsh words, indeed. But, they are clearly the words of someone who considers Himself to be in absolute control and capable of judgment without apology.

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.”

Again, the details speak for themselves. Despite their worldly goods, Jesus reckoned them as spiritually bankrupt; wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. Yet, He advised them how to turn things around. He still held out hope that they could become spiritually prosperous (which is one translation of what it means to be “blessed), wear white clothing (a sign of righteousness), have their shame removed and their eyes opened.

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.

Here’s a basic reality. God chastens those He loves. He does not utterly cast them off. Like a good Father, He disciplines and corrects His people. This same idea is found in Hebrews 12 –

“For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:6-11)

But, where the Laodiceans are concerned, look closely at Jesus’ statement. Yes, He rebuked them soundly. But, He also explained that His chastening was driven by His love for them. Therefore, they were to be zealous rather than indifferent and were to repent, or change their ways.

So, thus far in Jesus’ words to the Church at Laodicea, He has defined Himself as faithful and trustworthy, rebuked them for being lukewarm, pointed out the disconnect between their own self-assessment and their actual spiritual state, and summarized by adjuring them to lean on Him for everything their needed to improve their spiritual lot. Then, He pointed out that His rebuke was not evidence that He was against them, but that He indeed loved them!

So, there’s the tension. There’s the rub. They are in a condition that sickens Him and He has threatened to vomit them out of His mouth. But an antidote exists and it is found in Him. So, in love He forewarns them. Then His warning continues along the same lines, following a scenario He had already established earlier in His ministry – “Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.” (Luke 12:40)

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock.”

If we understand that phrase in keeping with the larger context of Jesus’ employment of that image, then we realize that His words in Revelation 3:20 are a warning to be ready, to repent, to seek Jesus immediately as the means to righteousness. Do it quickly — He’s already at the door knocking! It’s sudden, jarring, practically unexpected. He’s here, present, waiting for the appropriate response.

“If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”

Once again, this parallel’s His warning to His followers in Luke 12 –

“And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately.” (Luke 12:36)

Jesus expects that His church will be looking for Him, awaiting His arrival. There should be no hesitation in rushing to the door and flinging it open. Christ is at the door! You’ve been warned. Be ready. That, I believe, is His point. And it fits not only with the larger context of Jesus’ teaching; it fits perfectly with the flow of this passage.

These are not the words of a weary shepherd, hoping to be let in for some comfort and a bite to eat. This is the language of the true, faithful Judge of the Universe, adjuring those He loves to recognize and admit their spiritual emptiness and turn to Him for complete healing and righteousness. He is motivated by His Sovereign rule over the Church He built and bought, as well as by His unerring faithful love for those He has redeemed and called.

So, as a faithful shepherd, He adjures them to repent immediately. There’s no time to waste. After all, behold! — He’s knocking at the door.

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.” (Rev 3:14-21)

And just as the letter to Laodicea begins with declarations of Christ’s faithfulness and truth, He wraps up by reminding them that He has already overcome death and sits evermore on His Father’s throne. Those who repent and look to Christ in faith will similarly be granted the right to sit with Christ on His throne, the place of all power and authority. It’s hard to imagine a more compelling inducement.

So, that’s how I read it. It fits perfectly with the whole of Scripture and does no damage to the Sovereignty of Christ in the salvation of His people.

Q – Thanks! PS – FYI … I listen to your voice on average 6 to 8 hours a day. I never grow tired of hearing these messages. I was never like this before.

Jim – You need a life. Or a hobby. Or a dog or something. :^)

I suppose that’s why you chose to write to me. You certainly hear enough of my voice.

Yours for His sake,

Jim Mc.