'Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. (Rev 3:20 NAU)
There have been many passages in the Bible taken out of context and misused for varying purposes, and this passage is no exception. I am certainly not alone in my objection to the modern evangelical twist this specific text has been subjected to in past years.
While this text contains imagery drawn from various sources and subtle Hebraic ways (Exodus for example) for communicating a specific message, there are some obvious conclusions to be made regarding what this text does and does not say.
Does taking a passage out of context in order to make a theological (or other) point constitute as abuse of a text? The answer is resoundingly yes, although there are some groups convinced that if the Bible is quoted in any way for making any point, it is proper and justifiable. The Bible's role - in this mindset - is to be there for the moment needed, to say what the individual wants it to say, the Google of God. This careless and cavalier attitude toward Scripture is detestable, and does great injustice to the original writer and world of that text. It must be allowed to say what the writers intended and the message be for the audience to whom it was written. Then and only then can we bring it into our world and time.
Revelation 3:20 is a favorite of evangelists, preachers, youth leaders and many whose objective has been and continues to be “shooting the gospel gun” at as many as possible and therefore promote the urgent call of Jesus into the desperate life of a sinner. This mentality has left many gaping wounds in innocent bystanders.
It has been hijacked for the purpose of an attempt to prove that Jesus stands at the door of a sinner’s heart needing an immediate response to the call or reception of the so-called gospel message. Is this really what this text is saying? Does the context of chapter three or even the book of Revelation as a whole for that matter support this theory? Is Christ standing at the door of a sinner’s heart waiting for him/her to ask him into their hearts by praying a sinner’s prayer?
Terminology and cliché have become rampant in the church, making for handy marketing techniques, but unfortunately at the same time have fostered ignorance to solid theology, exegesis and proper hermeneutical principles needed for interpreting any given word or phrase. These phrases are rarely helpful or accurate. For instance, what does “asking Jesus into your heart” even mean? While some see a vague notion able to be corroborated in a proof passage or so, this is not a NT theme and is rather quite foreign to the Hebraic worldview in which Jesus came and proclaimed his God ordained message. The NT has a quite different message: “repent and believe in the Gospel of the Kingdom of God” (Mk. 1:14-15, Acts 8:12).
This misuse of the Biblical text has done tremendous damage. The easy, non-existent gospel of “little sinner, little sinner, let Jesus come in” may indeed be heartwarming – having created a caricature of a loving, caring Jesus who stands at the threshold of people’s hearts begging them give him entrance into their lives as a personal Lord and savior, but nevertheless is not accurate and has no presence in the Biblical narrative. Jesus is not pressing, coercing or pressuring anyone to be participants.
I had a unique experience with this phenomenon a couple of months ago. My family and I attended our local county fair, and while strolling through the church section of the booths, my children were drawn in and subsequently harassed and heckled by the church representatives. They drew the children in with games and goodies trying to persuade the children to “say these words after me,” “don’t you want to ask Jesus into your heart?” and "don't you want to know true peace, joy and have assurance that when you die you will go to heaven?" Now, my children were aware of this nonsense (since we discuss things like this as a family) beforehand, and having tried to reason with these individuals in an attempt to explain what it is they were actually saying, they would not (or could not) hear me. I finally had to remove my children from them to the point of actually walking away. I did not want to be rude, but as a protector of my children and having insisted that they were not interested, the salesmen persisted nonetheless in trying to get my (at this time slightly bewildered) children to repeat a “sinners prayer” knowingly against my will.
Protestants often abhor Jehovah’s Witnesses and what they do, but these guys were far beyond them on a ignorance and annoyance scale. JW’s are at least cordial, respectful and will dialogue like rational human beings (in my experiences with them), but not these (dare I call them) gentlemen. How has Christianity come to this? What is being communicating by this type of methodology and Biblical illiteracy in favor of catch phrases and a cheap gospel? These men were sincere; I didn’t doubt it for a moment. But they wouldn't listen to one word I had to say regarding their theology or evangelistic practices. I could’ve been reciting Hamlet and they would've been none the wiser. They were on a mission to get a confession or recitation from my children’s lips and their specific brand of religious propaganda into little hands.
The Christian evangelical methodology and message has been sabotaged to the point of downright distortion beyond recognition from the first-century apostolic message whence it came. The door at which Jesus knocked in Revelation 3:20 was not some vague spiritual metaphor, but rather a specific door. And while he wasn’t physically knocking, he was however speaking to real people, a specific group. We cannot ignore the context and culture of this text and carelessly act as though this passage is to just anyone, and says what we want it to.
“To the angel [not pastor] of the church in Laodicea…” (Rev 3:14 NAU).
They are known in this passage as the lukewarm church. (There is some neat imagery present, apparently drawn from the geographical region of these people in relation to lukewarm water with which they would've most likely been acquainted). In Revelation 3:14-22, they are verbally chastised for their apathy and complacency:
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot” (v. 15).
Hot water is good and useful, as is cold, living and refreshing water. But tepid, mineral filled water is useless. They did not necessarily reject Christ, but their passion and zeal had waned and disobedience had ensued. They maintained their profession of Christ, but in reality there was no place for him in their assembly. It is in this context that Christ stood outside the door of the Laodicean church, eager for them to make amends as a congregation and restore their relationship to God and fellowship with Christ through repentance.
The Church needs to stop acting like a business and using poor tactics in an attempt to make sales or win recruits. Twisting the text to make it dramatic, palatable or emotional is not God’s mission. This has made modern Christianity reprehensible to those who know better. The fullest sense of what the Gospel of the Kingdom of God represented was never a matter of Jesus being king of someone's heart, it rather pointed towards repentance, restoration, renewal and redemption, not being king of the heart with hope of Heaven.