What is the meaning of Revelation 3:20? When Jesus comes knocking on your door

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Revelation 3:20 is one of the most misused verses by evangelists. What is the true meaning of the verse when Jesus knocking on your door? #revelation3v20 #beholdistandatthedoor #revelation
The Light of the World by Holman Hunt, St Paul’s Cathedral Version

 

Every year on October 31st, children all over the world come knocking on strangers’ doors as they celebrate Halloween, shouting the familiar catchphrase, “trick or treat?”

You’ll see kids dressed up in a variety of scary costumes hoping that the house owners will open up their doors and offer them goodies in the form of sweets and candy.

Many Christians view Revelation 3:20 in a similar way. That verse says:

20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

The verse is a favourite among evangelists and preachers. It’s not uncommon for them to interpret that verse as Jesus standing outside the doors of the life of a non-believer. He’s waiting to be invited in, and stands there knocking on this stranger’s door, similar to the children going trick or treating.

However, does the original verse in Revelation 3:20 actually refer to this?

Read on to find out.

 

Holman Hunt’s The Light of the World

 

What is the meaning of Revelation 3_20_ When Jesus comes knocking on your door
The Light of the World by Holman Hunt, Keble College Oxford Version

 

Holman Hunt’s famous painting The Light of the World  was inspired by the verse in Revelation 3:20. The Pre-Raphelite artist created three versions of this image. The original (completed in 1853) is displayed in the chapel at Keble College, Oxford. A smaller pastel version (completed in 1856) hangs in Manchester City Art Gallery. The most famous and largest version (completed in 1904) hangs in St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Hunt’s painting is often used as a vivid evangelistic picture of how Jesus comes knocking on unbelievers’ hearts, wanting to come in.

In his book Questions of Life, Nicky Gumbel, the founder of the Alpha Course and rector of Holy Trinity Brompton church in London, interprets both the verse and the painting in this way. He writes:

“Jesus, the Light of the World, stands at a door, which is overgrown with ivy and weeds. The door clearly represents the door of someone’s life. This person has never invited Jesus to come into his or her life. Jesus is standing at the door and knocking. He is awaiting a response. He wants to come in and be part of that person’s life.”

The door in this painting doesn’t appear to have a handle on the outside. Hunt explained in his book Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood that this was deliberate. The handle is in the inside and can only be opened from that end, representing the “obstinately shut mind.”

Gumbel comments on this fact, saying:

“In other words, we have to open the door to let Jesus into our lives. Jesus will never force his way in. He gives us the freedom to choose. It is up to us whether or not we open the door to him. If we do, he promises, ‘I will come in and eat with them and they with me’ Eating together is a sign of the friendship which Jesus offers to all those who open the door of their lives to him.”

While it could provide us with a useful picture of what happens with a non-believer, this is not the original context of the passage in Revelation at all.

What does the passage actually say?

 

The original context of Revelation 3:20

Revelation 3:20 - The meaning of Jesus knocking on your door
The seven churches in Revelation Image credit: Free Bible Images, courtesy of www.LumoProject.com.

 

Revelation 3:20 is part of a longer passage. It forms part of John’s vision of a message sent to the church of Laodicea in 3:14-22.

John has a vision of Jesus speaking to seven different churches starting in Revelation chapter 2 and going through to the end of Revelation chapter 3. These churches are the church in Ephesus (2:1-7), Smyrna (2:8-11), Pergamum (2:12-17), Thyatira (2:18-29), Sardis (3:1-6), Philadelphia (3:7-13) and Laodicea (3:14-22).

Each of these churches are imperfect, and have something about them that is not quite up to scratch. In each of these, warnings and encouragements are given.

To the church of Laodicea, Jesus gives a stern warning, because of their lukewarm nature.

He says:

 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 

Jesus continues that the church thinks they are rich and not in need of anything, but in fact they are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

When Jesus says that He stands at the door and knocks, it is immediately preceded by verse 19 which says:

19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

 

4 things to note about Revelation 3:20

 

Revelation 3:20 is addressed to believers, not unbelievers

Revelation 3:20 - The meaning of Jesus knocking on your door

Revelation 3:20 is part of a message to a church. This is a church of believers. It is also addressed to a whole congregation rather than an individual.

Now of course, the body of Christ is made up of individuals, and within that body, you can easily find many individuals who have become lukewarm.

That is the danger for each one of us as Christians. We can allow our passion for Jesus to fade and to become indifferent to sin, or to others in need.

In verse 19, Jesus also says that “those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” 

Revelation 3:20 is not about Jesus wanting to come into the life of an unbeliever. It is about how we as believers can become lukewarm and feel we are now rich and self-sufficient. As such, we can end up pushing Jesus out and leave Him standing on the outside of the door of our lives.

It’s not, as Nicky Gumbel writes, that the person has never invited Jesus into their lives. On the contrary, they have invited Him in already, but are now crowding or pushing Him out.

The door that is overgrown with ivy and weeds in Holman Hunt’s painting more likely represents the weeds that grow up and choke us, like the parable of the sower in Luke 8:4-15. This is the parable of the Sower. In verse 14, Jesus explains that there are those who have heard the word of God, but then go on their way as they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.

 

Jesus is not standing outside the door begging to come in.

What is the meaning of Revelation 3_20_ When Jesus comes knocking on your door
The Light of the World by Holman Hunt, Manchester City Art Gallery Version

 

The impression often given by the Holman Hunt painting is that Jesus is constantly knocking on the door of the unbeliever, hoping they will open up and invite Him in. But when they fail to do so, perhaps He goes away sad and waits for another opportune time when they might be more open.

However, the description of Jesus in these messages to the Seven churches is not one where He is meek and mild. Instead, this is a Jesus who stands in glory and power. In verse 14, it says:

“These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.”

Similarly, in Chapter 2:1 when addressing the church of Ephesus, it says:

“These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.” 

Or again in 2:8, it says:

“These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.”

And in 2:12 it says:

“These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.”

Or in 2:18 it says:

“These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.”

You get the picture. This is not a gentle picture of Jesus standing outside rather unassumingly. This is a picture of Him in awe and majesty.

 

 

Verses 17-18 are both warnings and encouragements

Revelation 3:20 - The meaning of Jesus knocking on your door
Image credit: Free Bible Images, courtesy of www.LumoProject.com.

 

Verses 17-18 are important here for the context of the passage. They read as follows:

17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Jesus is saying to the church: “You think you’re rich and have acquired wealth and think you’re self-sufficient. But this is what you’re actually like. You’re actually wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

On the one hand, the church’s view of themselves as rich and not needing anything can easily make them what Tim Keller describes in his book Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just as “middle class in spirit” as opposed to poor in spirit.

When they become that way, this makes them indifferent to the needs of those around them. They can become lukewarm and merely existing in a self-sufficient way, being neither hot nor cold.

On the other hand, Jesus is saying that the church are not in fact rich at all as they think. Their righteousness is like filthy rags, as Isaiah 64:6 says. They are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. In particular, they are poor, because they need to wear Jesus’ own righteousness to cover up their nakedness and to help them see. They need Jesus’ grace to survive. Without that, they can do nothing.

I’ve written about being poor in spirit in more detail here.

 

 

Revelation 3:20 is a call for believers to repent

Verse 19-20 read:

19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

The idea here is not that an unbeliever is receiving fellowship with Jesus for the first time, as Nicky Gumbel describes.

Rather, in the context of this passage, Jesus was standing outside the door of the Laodicean church. His call was to re-enter the lukewarm church’s doors through their repentance.

Applying it to us as believers more broadly, we can also become lukewarm towards Jesus. We end up putting Him who was inside the door of our lives back outside again. When we do that, we are out of fellowship or communion with Him.

In John 10:1-30, Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd. He also refers to himself as the door of the sheep and how his sheep hear his voice, and how He knows them and they follow Him.

When believers – the sheep of the Shepherd – open up the door to Jesus again, they experience that fellowship and communion that they had lost. Although Jesus is always dwelling within us as believers, our experience is such that we no longer feel close to Him when we become lukewarm.

Our repentance involves acknowledging that we are indeed wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. Our righteousness is like filthy rags and we need Jesus in every aspect of our lives.

We can easily allow our everyday lives to overwhelm us and push Jesus outside of our lives. We can become distracted with all the cares and worries of this world.

When we become worried, we must remember that one thing is needed. To hear the word of God again and spend time with Jesus. This was Jesus’ call to Martha when she was distracted by so many other things instead of sitting at His feet.

The call to us is echoed in the old Vineyard song Light the Fire again, shown in the video above. We ask Jesus not to let our hearts grow cold, but for Him to light the fire within us once again as we open up our hearts to Him.

 

Conclusion

It is important to understand the original context of the passage so that we don’t distort it for our own purposes. Yes, it would provide a useful evangelistic picture for the unbeliever. However, Revelation 3:20 is not a passage about the unbeliever inviting Jesus into their life for the first time.

The passage is addressed to believers as part of a warning against becoming lukewarm.

Have you read the original context of the passage before? Or have you used it as an evangelistic image before? Are you surprised to discover the actual meaning and application?

Leave your comments in the section below. Also, please share if you found this article useful.

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Revelation 3:20 is one of the most misused verses by evangelists. What is the true meaning of the verse when Jesus comes knocking on your door? #revelation3v20 #beholdistandatthedoor #revelation

Robert is the founder of Drawing on the Word. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Master’s degree in Systematic Theology. He also has a degree in Law and was called to the Bar. Robert previously taught religious studies and was a theology lecturer. He is an artist, musician and writer, and has created a graphic novel version of Luke’s gospel. You can follow him below.

Revelation 3:20 is one of the most misused verses by evangelists. What is the true meaning of the verse when Jesus comes knocking on your door? #revelation3v20 #beholdistandatthedoor #revelation

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading this, this book of the Bible is an oft debated and feared book, and yes, it is often distorted, or quotes are taken out of context and applied inappropriately, it’s nice to see such an ordered approach to understanding it-

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Oh wow! Such a good post. Tons of information that I did not know before. Thank you for pointing out the original intent of the author in Revelation 3:20.

    1. Thanks for the comments! I’m glad you learnt something new here!

  3. What a great and very informative post!! Putting scripture in context is so important!! It is why I love the Hebrew language (and love teaching it on my blog)…it helps to see what the actual word was originally and it makes many things make so much sense!! Thank you for sharing all this amazing information!!

    1. Thanks for the kind words. Yes, context is very important when reading God’s word. Hebrew would be very helpful to know. I found it fairly difficult for the little I studied of it, but that’s probably because I was also studying New Testament Greek at the same time, so I had to concentrate on mastering one language.

  4. I am definitely familiar with the misinterpretation of this verse. The meaning changes so vastly when you realize the context of your first point alone – that it is directed to believers! Thanks for digging into this passage!

    1. You’re welcome Shaneen. Thanks for stopping by. Yes it completely changes the emphasis when you read the passage and see whom the passage is directed to. You’d think though that all it would take is reading the passage and surrounding passages to not arrive at the misinterpretation, but somehow it still happens.

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