See! 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.-Revelation 3:20
These memorable words of Jesus are often quoted in an evangelistic context. As Christians share the gospel with someone we might refer to Revelation 3:20 and say something like: “You see, Jesus is knocking at the door of your soul. Will you let him in?” I applaud the motivation and sentiment behind such efforts, but the fact is Revelation 3:20 isn’t the verse for that moment. Why not?
In Revelation 3:14-22 Jesus is speaking to people who identified themselves as believers and were part of the church community at Laodicea. The problem was many of them were not distinguishable from unbelievers in Laodicea who worshiped Roman gods and goddesses. They were lukewarm, and therefore would be vomited out of Jesus’s mouth upon his return (Revelation 3:15-17).
Thus, Jesus is warning two groups in Laodicea. First, he was warning believers who were tempted to compromise their faith by worshipping the false gods of their age all the while thinking they had no spiritual need (Revelation 3:17). Second, he was warning unbelievers masquerading as believers. In many instances these two groups are indistinguishable to you and I.
If Jesus wasn’t inviting unbelievers to become Christians, then what does his statement mean in Revelation 3:20? He is explicitly calling believers to repent of being lukewarm (read: not living as distinct from the world). He says this point blank in Revelation 3:19, “As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be zealous and repent.” As Tom Schreiner summarizes:
In context, the invitation and call is not an evangelistic summons but a word for believers in Laodicea, calling them to repentance.
Jesus’s call is somewhat evangelistic in an end-around kind of way, assuming that some in the church community at Laodicea were not believers. But he is speaking to people who had professed faith in him.
Jesus standing at the door and knocking is a tender picture of his care for the church by calling her to repent of blending in with a godless culture. To hear him and respond is to repent of idolatry and pursue Christ by opening yourself to him. The result of such repentance is feasting with our Savior—a reference to the marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation 19:9. Should people within earshot of this message fail to repent, they will confirm that they do not belong to Christ and will be excluded from him in his kingdom (vomited out of his mouth). Jesus simultaneously sternly warns those who fail to repent while making clear the path of restoration. David deSilva articulates this point well:
…he shows himself easily reconciled with those willing to heed his admonitions, offering the congregation in Lacodicea, for example, both the harshest rebuke and the most tender promises of restored fellowship.
By all means let us continue to share the gospel with our unbelieving world, but as we do so may we heed Jesus’s words in Revelation 3:20 and repent of living like unbelievers. Precious church, we need to hear this call more than ever. Jesus is knocking, will you let him in?