“I stand at the door and knock.”

by K.W. Leslie, 05 October

Revelation 3.20.

Revelation 3.20 KJV
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

This’d be Jesus speaking.

When I was a little kid, I was told Jesus lives in my heart.

I didn’t then understand the difference between one’s physical heart, the blood-pumping muscle/organ in one’s chest; and the spiritual heart, the center of one’s soul. That “Jesus lives in my heart” means Jesus takes priority over all. Arguably the spiritual heart is a metaphor, and Jesus living in it is definitely a metaphor. You wanna talk persons of the trinity who live in you, look to the Holy Spirit.

But you know how literal-minded a kid can be. Tell ’em “Jesus lives in your heart,” and they’ll wonder whether there’s a little tiny Jesus, physically inside their chests. And of course that’s not what they meant. Or at least I surely hope that’s not what they meant; you never know about some adults.

I was told Jesus lives in my heart because I let him in there. ’Cause for those who don’t have Jesus in their hearts, he’s standing at the door of these hearts, knocking. (Unless you’re Calvinist, in which case you believe Jesus already has the key, and comes in whenever he darn well feels like it. Yet some of ’em still talk about Jesus knocking on our hearts’ doors.) Anyway, won’t you let him in?

And of course kids would let him in. Who’s gonna leave Jesus outside, all alone, forced to live in our pancreas instead? Why, he might get attacked by our antibodies. Or get digested; won’t that be embarrassing.

Silliness aside, anyone who’s read Revelation 3 knows this passage isn’t about evangelism. It’s not an invitation to pagans, but Christians.

Time for the context.

Revelation was written down by John, but dictated and directed by Christ Jesus. The messages to seven churches take up chapters 2–3, where Jesus addressed the angels who supervised certain large churches in Asia Minor in the late first century. This verse is part of Jesus’s message to the angel of Laodicea. Rv 3.14 But for anyone with listening ears, Rv 3.22 they’d recognize Jesus’s followers in that church oughta really pay attention to these directions. They dealt with the people’s behavior—for the people, not the leadership, are the church.

Revelation 3.14-22 KWL
14 “To the angel of the church of Laodicea, write: Thus says the Amen,
the witness, the faithful and true one, the head of God’s creation.
15 I’ve known your works. You’re not chilled; not boiling. Wish you’d be either chilled or boiling.
16 So because you’re tepid, neither chilled nor boiling, I’m about to puke you out of my mouth:
17 You say, ‘I’m rich, I’ve been rich, I don’t need anything,’
and you’ve not realized you’re miserable, need help—a blind, naked beggar.
18 Take my advice: Buy fire-tested gold from me, so you can be rich.
Buy a white robe so you can put it on, and stop exposing your shameful nakedness.
Buy eyedrops to drop on your eyes, so you can see.
19 When I consider anyone friends, I convict and discipline them. Pr 3.11-12
So be zealous: Repent!
20 Look, I stood at the door and I’m knocking. When anyone hears my voice and unbolts the door,
I’ll enter the place, have a meal with them, and they with me.
21 I’ll give the conqueror a seat with me at my throne, which I also conquered,
and I sit with my Father at his throne.
22 Who has hearing ears? What’s the Spirit saying to the churches?”

Laodicea /lɑ.o'di.keɪ.a/, nowadays located in southwestern Turkey, is where the Asopus and Caprus rivers meet and empty into the Lycus. It’s about 10 km south of Hierapolis, a city known for its hot springs, and 17 km west of Colossae, a city known for its cold-water aqueduct. So, sometimes a preacher finds out this stuff, assumes Laodicea had aqueducts running to Hierapolis and Colossae, and says, “Hey, check it out! Laodicea had access to hot and cold running water!” But no: Laodicea was right between two rivers, remember? It didn’t tap, and didn’t need to tap, those other cities’ water supplies. It had its own. Which… was lukewarm.

If you’ve grown up in a city with purified water, you may not realize you’ve gotta treat water before you can drink it. Usually boil it. Otherwise you’d catch one of the many bacteriological diseases found in lukewarm water. You’d get sick.

Jesus says he wished these Laodiceans were either hot or cold. No, he didn’t say he wanted ’em spiritually hot or spiritually cold. I’ve actually heard preachers claim Jesus is okay with spiritually cold people: “He’d rather people feel nothing for God, than what people passively, pathetically do feel.” Er, no. Jesus isn’t so annoyed with hypocrites he’d rather they didn’t repent.

What this means is Jesus would rather the Laodiceans be useful. Lukewarm water can be useful of course, as all water can. But hot water is particularly useful. Cold water is especially useful on a hot day. Lukewarm water, not so much: It’s unsuitable for drinking. It has to be made hot or cold first.

Jesus doesn’t say “spit you out of my mouth,” like some translations (ESV, NASB, NIV, NLT) bowdlerize it. Rv 3.16 The CSB’s “vomit” is more accurate. Either it refers to recognizing the water is unclean, and forcibly spewing it out… or it’s too late, and now they’ve gone and made Jesus ill.

See, the Laodiceans assumed they were just fine. They were comfortable, they had wealth… and they had no clue these things were dousing their fire for God. Jesus called ’em miserable, needing help, blind, naked, and begging. Their material prosperity had killed their spiritual prosperity. Live had given them no challenges, so their faith hadn’t been stretched. It was ruining their relationship with Jesus. They didn’t figure they needed him.

Hence knocking at the door. He wanted to interact with them. He wanted to break bread together. It’s a metaphor for a close relationship: You eat with people when you wanna get to know them. Well, that’s what Jesus wanted with Laodicea.

And with all his followers. Us included.

Trying to make this about evangelism.

Does Jesus wanna interact with, and get to know pagans too? Of course he does.

Well, if that’s so, why can’t this verse be about evangelism? Why can’t Jesus likewise be standing at the door of their hearts, knocking, wanting to have a relationship with unbelievers, convincing them to become believers?

Hence commentators and evangelists really, really like using verse 20 for evangelism, and are loath to give it up without a fight. They’ll even argue it was used for evangelism in this context: The Laodiceans weren’t real believers, ’cause after all, they were a lukewarm church. They lacked faith in Jesus. They only went through the motions. They were cold and dead, and Jesus was trying to revive them.

The term “lukewarm Christian” did come from this passage, after all. Thing is, the term has evolved in meaning. Jesus only meant people who aren’t useful. It’s evolved to mean people who are spiritually apathetic, even spiritually dead. We’re reading the new, not-so-improved concept back into the scriptures, and incorrectly assuming that’s what Jesus meant. It is not. It’s a classic case of eisegesis, of reading our ideas into the bible, instead of pulling ideas out of it. Problem is, it looks like we’ve extracted the idea from the bible, ’cause look!—here’s where the idea of “lukewarm Christians” came from!

Nope. When Jesus speaks of “the church,” he always means his people. Not the people who hang out with his people: His people.. Not fake Christians, but real ones.

Yeah, “the church” is gonna sin, ’cause humans do that; even the best of us. “The church” might make a mess of things, or follow Jesus poorly. Still his church though.

“When I consider anyone friends, I convict and discipline them,” Jesus said. Rv 3.19 The word I translated “consider friends,” filó, is frequently translated “love,” because it’s a synonym for love. But this is intentional love on Jesus’s part. He’s not talking about people whom he generically loves, “for God so loved the world” Jn 3.16 and all that. He’s speaking of people with whom he already has an existing relationship. Friends. Not pagans.

He wants to be a part of pagans’ lives, and the whole knocking-at-the-door idea is a handy way to describe how he’s inviting them into that relationship. Go ahead and use that metaphor. Just bear in mind it’s not what Revelation 3 is actually about.

And if you’re lukewarm—if you’re not all that useful to God’s kingdom, ’cause you figure you’re saved and going to heaven, so it’s okay if you take God for granted—this message is for you. Jesus has no intention of abandoning you. But he does want to interact with you way more than you have been. So he stands at the door. He wants to reconnect.

Christianity is meant to be an intentional relationship with God. He wants us to religiously pursue him. He wants us, in the end, to be as victorious as he is, and sit with him on his throne. To do so, we gotta get closer to him. So let him in, and eat together.