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 (Revelations 3:20).
This text from Revelation 3:20 if one of the most quoted passages in evangelism. The appeal is made to the unbeliever that Jesus is at the door of his heart, knocking, and that he promises to come in and eat with him. The only hindrance is the person not opening the door of his heart to Christ. But is this text really about evangelism?
Before arriving at a conclusion about what the apostle John meant when he wrote Revelation 3:20, we must resist the temptation to go directly from the text to the meaning. Rather, the way to know what a verse means is to study it in its context. When the author of a text writes it, he writes in such a way that we can arrive at what he intended to communicate by studying his words in context.
The Meaning of Revelation 3:20 in Context
First of all, we notice that the text is addressed to the Church in Laodicea, a church described as “lukewarm” (3:16). Jesus threatens to spit them out of his mouth (judgment) because they are “lukewarm.” Implicit in the words, “I will spit you out of my mouth” is a call to repentance. The church in Laodicea must repent or risked being judged by Christ. Contrary to how they see themselves, Jesus counseled them to turn to him and receive from him so that they may be rich (3:17-18). The call for repentance is made explicit in 3:19, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so, be zealous and repent.”
Obviously, the people in the church of Laodicea, though “lukewarm,” were believers. Nothing in the text says that they were unbelievers. In fact, Jesus says that he will discipline them because he loves them (3:19).
Seeing then that Revelation 3:20 was addressed to believers, we can then begin to seek an understanding of what the text meant. We can say that Jesus’ words to the church in Laodicea were addressed to believers who were struggling. Jesus promised them that he is ready to re-establish fellowship with them, “I stand at the door and knock, . . . I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” This fellowship is not possible unless they repent, “hears my voice and opens the door.”
The message and promise of this passage for believers is that if and when we stray far from the Lord, he is ready and willing to restore fellowship with us. Yet, it will not happen unless we repent.
We have a Savior who is there ready to forgive us our sins when we repent. He stands with arms stretched out to those redeemed by his blood.
Given our understanding of the passage in context, we conclude that it would be a misuse of the text to apply it to unbelievers. To do so would be to miss the words of Christ for the church.