The Surprising Truth About Revelation 3:20 Meaning (behold I stand at the door and knock)

Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. Revelation 3:20

This is one of the most popular verses in Revelation. Whenever I hear this verse I think about this picture:

Revelation 3:20

Of course this picture isn’t exactly accurate. However the point of this blog isn’t how we misrepresent Jesus’ physical appearance. It’s how we misinterpret the true Revelation 3:20 meaning.

We’ve missed WHO this verse is addressed to. We often picture Jesus standing outside an unbeliever’s house (heart) asking to come in. In other words we see this passage as an invitation for salvation. 

The problem is that’s not who Revelation 3:20 is written to. 

In this blog post we are going to look at what “behold I stand at the door and knock” means and how it applies to our lives.

Let’s start by looking at the context.

The Context Of Revelation 3:20

In the first few chapters of Revelation, John (the author) records a message from God to seven churches. These were real churches with real people that existed in John’s day. 

To fully understand the meaning of Revelation 3:20 we must first understand who the original audience is. And when we do that what you will see is that there are a lot of similarities between these ancient churches and ours today. 

This famous picture of Jesus standing at the door knocking comes in the middle of these addresses to the seven churches. In Revelation 3:14-22 the church of Laodicea is being addressed. 

The most common interpretation of Revelation 3:20 is that Jesus is standing on the outside of an unbelievers heart. This passage is seen as a salvation invitation. But in context we can see that’s an improper understanding. 

When Jesus says “behold I stand at the door and knock” he’s actually addressing a church. His own followers. 

Let’s look a little further into the Laodicean church and who they were. 

The Church Of Laodicea

Laodicea was positioned in a heavily resourced area and the people who lived there had comfortable lives. They prided themselves on their ability to provide for themselves. So much so that when an earthquake destroyed their city in 60 AD they refused help from the Roman Empire insisting to pay for the rebuild themselves. 

This attitude of self-sufficiency spilled over into the church. They thought they had it all together and figured out. 

In a harsh, spurred from love reminder, God points out their weakness and tells them they’ve become useless. That’s what the whole lukewarm water comment is about (Revelation 3:16). Hot and cold water are good and useful, but lukewarm water is good for nothing.

If you want to learn more about this comment about being lukewarm check out this blog post I wrote: What It Means To Be Lukewarm

The church in Laodicea is lukewarm. They are stuck in neutral. They think they are self-sufficient. But the reality is they are deficient. They have a dire need for Jesus. The question of them is will they admit their need or leave Jesus outside so that they can keep up appearances. 

That’s what leads us to this picture of Jesus standing on the outside knocking in Revelation 3:20. 

This image is actually a really interesting picture. It would have been familiar to anyone in the culture. It’s an image of someone wanting to come in for dinner. It would have been considered rude and inhospitable to not let them in. In other words, this image is kinda a punch in the gut to the Laodicean church. The church, God’s people, have left Jesus standing outside.

Revelation 3:20 Meaning

Now that we’ve seen the context, let’s look at real Revelation 3:20 meaning. 

Revelation 3:20 is not a picture of Jesus asking to come into the life of an unbeliever. Rather it’s about how believers can become lukewarm. In doing so we push Jesus out and leave Him standing on the outside of the door. That’s the picture this verse is painting, Jesus standing outside a Christian’s heart asking to come in.

The church in Laodicea had developed three bad characteristics that this passage is addressing. 

There were lukewarm. Lukewarm implies that they were good for nothing. Hot water is soothing and cleans. Cold water is refreshing. Both have a purpose and a value. Lukewarm water is good for nothing. This is something the people of Laodicea knew well, all they had access to was lukewarm water (more on that here). This church had given up their pursuit of Jesus and become ineffective. 

They were materialistic. This church was rich in material things that created a false sense of security. They thought they were good to go because they could provide for themselves. But they were neglecting their spiritual condition. 

They were spiritually bankrupt. Really the root cause of all this was their spiritual condition. They had disconnected themselves from the vine and were withering. This church learned the hard lesson that without God it’s impossible to produce life. A lesson that many churches today should lean into. 

The Laodicean church had kicked Jesus out leaving him outside knocking to come back in. Really Revelation 3:20 is a question posed to the church, will you let Jesus back in? 

He’s willing and desiring a relationship. He’s waiting for them. But they have to open the door. Jesus isn’t going to barge in. He desires a relationship not of subservience but of mutual desire. He knocks, but we have to open the door. 

And that’s where this passage ends. Do they open the door? We don’t know. 

3 Truths From Revelation 3:20

Now that we know the Revelation 3:20 meaning let’s look at some takeaways for our lives today. Here’s 3 truths about Revelation 3:20.

Permission is Sacred

Have you wondered why Jesus stands on the outside and knocks? He could just kick the door down and come in. He has the power, and the right, to do so. So, why does the creator of the universe choose to wait for our response? 

We can’t miss this… Permission is sacred. 

Jesus chooses this path because he desires intimacy with his creation. A relationship of mutual choosing. Because where there’s not permission there cannot be love. Love cannot be forced, it has to be granted permission. Permission is sacred.  

Jesus waits on the outside and knocks not because he has to, but to honor our decision. He wants what power cannot gain. A relationship. 

In a culture where the powerful and elite think they can take what they want, we understand the depth of permission. We understand the violation when permission is ignored. Isn’t it refreshing that the creator of the universe, the one who could take anything he wants, rather gives his creation the power of permission? 

Shane Wood in his book Between Two Trees says it this way: “Even if we treat it {permission} profanely. Even if we overlook the power it possesses. The mystery it contains. The divinity it emanates. To give permission to another is a moment charged with intimacy, a gesture suffused with intensity. For permission is an invitation to closeness. Permission reroutes the boundaries of our world to include another, to welcome another, to incorporate another into what is by design our own.”

Jesus stands at your door and knocks because your permission is sacred. He will not force his way in because love has to be chosen. 

Revelation 3:20 shows us that permission is sacred. 

It’s An Invitation

Revelation 3:20 is also an invitation, but not the kind we are thinking. This isn’t an invitation that Jesus is extending to us. Rather it’s an invitation we extend to him. 

Craig Keener in his commentary on Revelation says, “Lest anyone misunderstand the tone and motivation of Jesus’ rebuke, he makes clear that its purpose is love. Indeed, not only does Jesus not reject them, but he wants to have dinner with them (Revelation 3:20), a familiar image for intimacy in antiquity; inviting Jesus in for a meal was the least sort of hospitality one would expect of even an acquaintance. Can a Christian who calls Jesus Lord do anything less?”

Jesus is inviting the Laodicean Christians to realize how their own self-sufficiency has shut Him out of their lives. He’s offering them, in essence, a second chance. An opportunity to once again invite him in. 

As Keener says, this is the least amount of hospitality we can show someone, even a stranger. But we aren’t talking about a stranger here. We are talking about a people that call themselves Christians that have left their Savior outside. He’s knocking to come in, but are they going to extend the invitation to their Savior? 

Revelation 3:20 challenges us to look at our own lives to see if we are inviting Jesus into our lives. 

Inviting Jesus In Changes Everything 

You might be looking at this picture in Revelation 3:20 and think why wouldn’t someone let Jesus in? Especially a Christian, they are on the same team so why is Jesus on the outside? 

The picture of inviting Jesus evoked images of hospitality to the original audience. And if that was the extent of this verse, of course, nobody would leave Jesus outside knocking. But what this verse is getting at is much deeper than just sharing a meal. Inviting Jesus in is allowing him to do work in our lives. It’s submitting to him and allowing him to transform our lives. 

This transformative process isn’t always easy and is intrusive. And that’s why many people leave Jesus on the outside. Because this process of our transformation from death (our old life) to life (where Jesus is leading us) is painful.

For the church in Laodicea, they didn’t want to enter into this process. They liked their old ways. They didn’t want Jesus coming in and changing things. That would be painful, it would mean they would have to admit their wrongs and change their ways. So they kept the door shut. 

Inviting Jesus in is giving him permission to dig around in our life and find dead parts, the bad parts, the ugly parts, and redeem them. While on one hand that sounds like good news (and it is) it’s also painful. So many avoid it. 

Closing Thoughts On “Behold I Stand At The Door And Knock” 

The Revelation 3:20 meaning  for us today is similar as to what it was for the church in Laodicea. We’ve bought into the same lie they did. We think we have everything we need. 

When we are faced with the fact that we don’t, we think if we could just get more money, a better president, that law passed, or whatever then we will be alright. But the reality is we are fooling ourselves. We are hopeless on our own. We need Jesus. Desperately.  

For many in the western church Jesus is standing at their “door” knocking. He won’t bust in, he’s waiting for an invitation. Remember, permission is sacred. We have a choice. Let Jesus in and face the process of transformation. Or keep him at arms length, play it safe, but never experience the life he wants for you. 

Jesus wants to come in. He wants that relationship with you. And he wants to transform the dead parts of your life. It will be painful, but it’s done in love and for your good. He has something incredible for you. So, what are you going to do? Will you let him in?

Jeffery Curtis Poor
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