How many times have you heard an altar call or an invitation extended and the preacher or speaker quoted Revelation 3:20 and said or implied that it was God or Jesus knocking on the door of the sinner’s heart and all they had to do to be saved was to open the door and let the Lord in? If you were brought up in church like me, you probably cannot count how many times you have heard that appeal!
But did you know that the picture usually presented in connection with Revelation 3:20 is not the picture the verse is depicting at all? When Jesus was knocking on the door in Revelation 3:20, he was not knocking on the door of a sinner’s heart! There are three basic rules one must follow first in order to rightfully interpret Scripture. The first rule is context! The second rule is context! And the third rule is context! The Bible can be made to say and mean anything when verses or passages are taken out of their context. Such has been the case with Revelation 3:20!
A good rule of thumb in establishing the context is to make sure you read what comes before and what comes after the particular verse or passage. Find out how the passage fits in the narrative or discourse in reference to the surrounding verses or passages. Then read the whole chapter and find out how it fits in reference to the whole chapter. Then read the whole book, then look at the section of the Bible it is contained within (Old or New Testament), then find out how it fits in the Bible as a whole! Now, usually you will not have to read the whole Bible just to find the correct context for one verse or passage; you can usually find that out by reading the surrounding verses and maybe the chapter. The point I am trying to make is that no verse or passage really stands all by itself! In order to properly find the intended and true meaning, you need to find the context!
With that in mind, Revelation 3:20 is part of a letter that was written to the angel (pastor perhaps?) of the church at Laodicea. The message is not just to the “angel,” the message was to the church. This particular church was mediocre in their devotion and service. They were lukewarm; in betwixt and in between. They were not hot and they were not cold! By the way, I’ve heard that particular part of the passage preached to imply that the Lord wanted them hot as opposed to cold, but that is not what the passage is saying. The city of Laodicea had no natural water source. Water had to be piped in either from the hot springs of Heirapolis, six miles to the north or from the cold streams of Colosse, ten miles to the east. By the time the hot piped water would arrive from Heirapolis, it was not warm enough to bathe in. By the time the cold refreshing water would arrive from Colosse, it too was too warm to drink! Thus the people knew exactly what was meant by the wish that they were hot or cold, because they knew first-hand how useless and nauseating luke-warmness was!
Now, I am not going to deal with the whole passage because that is not the purpose of this post. But notice in the verse just before our passage, the Lord said: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (Rev. 3:19 ESV) In the two verses immediately following, the Lord said: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'” (Rev 3:21-22 ESV) So, we can gather from the context, because the Lord loves them, the Lord is speaking to church people, encouraging them to be zealous and repent of their lukewarmness. Therefore in this context, there is no doubt that the door the Lord is knocking on in verse 20 is not the door of an unsaved sinner’s heart, but rather the Lord is knocking on the door of the church of Laodicea, seeking to gain entrance and fellowship! Because of their perceived self-sufficiency, they felt no real need for the Lord and what he had to offer!
Oh! What a revelation? In the correct context, this passage should be used to encourage not sinners, but the church (particularly the Western church) to repent of her self-sufficiency, lack of whole-hearted devotion, and exclusion of the Lord from his rightful place as the Head of the church!