It’s been said by some biblical scholars that the three most important rules for a proper and thorough understanding of the text of Scripture are Context, Context, & Context. By that we mean:
· The immediate context in a section or chapter of Scripture
· The larger context of a particular book in the Bible
· The broad context of the entire Bible and God’s plan for his children
I freely admit that some passages of Scripture can be valuable in and of themselves as precious promises, words of comfort, or even admonition or warning. They can also be used to ‘prove’ one’s personal opinion or preferred interpretation. Examining context can therefore be not only profitable, but extremely edifying.
With that said, let’s examine Revelation 3:20.
Is there is anyone among those who profess to be believers in Christ who doesn’t know that passage? For decades it’s been a favorite passage to use when leading someone to Christ. The explanation goes something like this:
Jesus is standing forlornly at the door of your heart, wanting to come in and dine with you, but you must open the door! There is but one door latch and it’s on the inside, where you live, and Jesus can’t enter no matter how desperately He wants to!
I even heard a local pastor one Sunday, whose sermon was about Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall and city gates, tell the congregation of several hundred that there was one gate that God could not open, the door to the human heart. I also cannot dispute that there have been many genuine decisions for Christ after hearing about the ‘one-way door’.
We are not concerned so much with what we think it means or what we might want it to say, but only what it is actually telling us in the three contexts mentioned above (chapter, book, the entire Bible). We can ask a few simple questions to accomplish our goal.
1. What is the passage about?
Revelation, Chapter 3 is a continuation of Chapters 1 & 2, in which the Apostle John, in a vision on the Lord’s day, was commanded to record what he saw and write letters to seven churches about what he saw. Our passage is from one of those letters to one of those churches:
14“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. 15“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18I 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. 19Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20Behold, 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.’” (ESV)
Does the actual context in which we find Revelation 3:20 paint a picture of Jesus knocking on the door of an unbeliever’s heart, or is Jesus knocking on the door of a lukewarm church that seems to have evicted Him from the premises? Is it a passage inviting unbelievers to Christ or is it about waking up a lukewarm church?
Should we invite our unsaved loved ones and friends to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ? By all means! Our chief calling as believers is to share Christ with the lost world around us!
2. Who can open the heart of an unbeliever?
The story of a woman named Lydia in Acts 16 gives us a clue:
“And on the Sabbath day we (Paul and his co-workers) went out of the city (Philippi) to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. 14Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.” 15And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.” (Acts 16:13-15)
One thing is certain. No one is saved whose heart remains closed to the message of the gospel. Perhaps rather than asking someone to “open their heart”, we should pray as we seek to evangelize the lost around us, that God opens hearts to hear what we have to say. Our duty is to be faithful to the message of the gospel and trust God to save those whose hearts he has prepared to hear it.
3. Is there a wider application with lessons for us today?
Well, the book of Revelation was written by the Apostle John to seven churches in Asia to prepare them for the second coming of Christ to Earth. God sent an angel to tell John what to write. Part of that consisted of seven specific letters to seven specific churches that can be said to exemplify churches in our day.
The church in Laodicea seems to have been ‘resting on its laurels’:
“17Because 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—18I 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.” (Revelation 3:17-18)
Are there churches today that are ‘resting on their laurels’, thinking that they are well off because they have all sorts of programs, professional sounding worship bands, light shows, the best that technology has to offer to appeal to folks in the theater seats? Facebook is filled with advertisements telling us how to ‘grow’ our churches using the best that our high tech world has to offer. Do we need let Jesus back in? Just questions and food for thought.
So regardless of what you have believed about Revelation 3:20, now you have. . .
. . .the REST of the verse!