Verse of the Day 7.1.17 — Revelation 3:20
Here I am! 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.1
Author: Although scholars disagree concerning the authorship of Revelation due to perceived differences in style, content, etc. compared to the Gospel of John, I do not find these issues compelling enough to doubt the tradition of the early church: John, the disciple of Jesus, wrote Revelation.
Several prominent early church writings, such as that of Justin Martyr (c. 135 AD),2 Irenaeus (c. 130 – c. 200 A.D.)3— who, according to early writings, was a disciple of Polycarp (c. 70 – 156 AD), a disciple of John, before Polycarp’s martyrdom (c. 155 AD) —4 Melito of Sardis (c. 165 A.D.),5 Clement of Alexandria6 (c. 150 – 215 AD),7 Tertullian8 (c. 160 – 225. AD),9 Origen10 (c. 185 – c. 254 AD),11 Hippolytus12 (c. 170 – c. 236 AD)13 and the Muratorian Canon14 (as early as the late second century AD).15, support the view of authorship by John the Apostle.
Date: Concerning the date of the Revelation, among scholars, there are two main views: (1) 68-69 AD after the death of Emperor Nero and (2) at the end of the reign of Emperor Domitian around 95 AD.16
Audience: Revelation is written to the “seven churches in the province of Asia” (Rev 1:4) Minor — Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7), Smyrna (Rev 2:8-11), Pergamum (Rev 2:12-17), Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29), Sardis (Rev 3:1-6), Philadelphia (Rev 3:7-13), and Laodicea (Rev 3:14-22). According to scholars, at the time, if one were to travel to each of these churches — which did not represent all of the churches in Asia Minor — in this order, one would essentially travel in a circle. Together with the fact that, biblically (and especially for John), seven is often a number of perfection, these details denote symbolism concerning completeness.19
Emperor Worship: At the end of the first century in the western part of the Roman Empire, and perhaps more than any other region of the empire, emperor worship was widespread.20
Persecution: In this cultural backdrop of emperor worship, Christians — who claimed that Jesus Christ was Lord (Php 2:11) — were often victims of emperor-sanctioned persecution. In fact, “John had been banished to [the island of] Patmos because of his powerful ministry of the word of God and witness of Jesus and therefore was viewed by the authorities as a dangerous leader of the Christian sect”21 (cf. Rev 1:9).
Prosperity: More specifically, Laodicea was one of the most affluent commercial centers in the world — located a crossroads of three imperial trade routes and renowned for its banking and clothing industries, a prominent medical school, and more.22 23
Self-Reliance: Understandably, the wealthy city of Laodicea was known for its independent, self-reliant nature. Following an earthquake in 60 AD, the town actually refused government assistance. Roman senator and historian Tacitus, born circa 55 AD,24 wrote that Laodicea “without any relief from us, recovered itself by its own resources.” 25 As Morris explains, “this commendable attitude in material things can be a disaster if carried over into the spiritual realm.”26
Lukewarm: In this economically-prosperous, self-reliant context resided the Laodicean church that was slipping into spiritual poverty. Scholars believe that the church was founded, at least in part, by the ministry of Epaphras (Col 1:7, 4:12-13) earlier in the first century. By the time of John’s Revelation at the end of the first century, however, the Laodiceans had become lukewarm (Rev 3:16).27
Drawing on Revelation 3:14-18, many a preacher and Sunday school teacher have emphasized that Jesus would rather us to be hot (on fire for Him in our Christian walk) or cold (completely against Him) than lukewarm (somewhere in the middle of these extremes). So-called Christians with a lukewarm faith (active trust) are to be spit out of the Lord’s mouth (Rev 3:16). This certainly may preach well, but it is probably not the text’s original meaning.
There were two cities not too far from Ladociea with well-respected, respective water supplies: Hieropolis and Colosse. According to scholars, Hierolopolis (Col 4:13), about five miles northwest, was “a spa famous for its hot mineral baths and medical remedies”28 due to its underground natural hot springs that are still active today.29 On the other hand, Colosse, ten miles south, boasted a spring that produced a neverending supply of cold great-tasting water.30
Laodicea, however, boasted some of the most disgusting water in the region. By the time the water reached this affluent city (through an ancient system of aqueducts in which mineral deposits had accumulated) from springs from other towns, it was lukewarm and nauseating.31
Literary Context: Therefore, even though the Ladoicean church may have had material wealth, the status of their water — the very substance one needs to for life — was revolting. They may have said, since they were rich, that they did not need a thing (Rev 3:17). But, in actuality, they were wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked (Rev 3:17). Spiritually, like their water, they were neither hot like the healing springs of Hieropolis, or cold like the refreshing spring of Colosse. To the Lord, the status of their spiritual walk was revolting. As a result, He provides harsh but loving counsel, and a call to repentance (Rev 3:18-19).
Misinterpretation: Revelation 3:20 “might qualify as the most misused verse in the entire New Testament.”32 For it is often used in an evangelistic context, in which Jesus is figured to be outside the door of our hearts knocking patiently — waiting to come in and fellowship with us. In some sense, this may be very well be the case. However, this does not seem to be the meaning of the text in this case.33.
Let Jesus (Back) In: In the context, the words are not addressed to unbelievers, but members of a church that had already been established, and had since become spiritually nauseating and lukewarm. So much so, that Jesus stood knocking outside — patiently waiting to be let back in!
Supper: After calling the Laodiceans to repentance, Jesus says that he will gladly come back and sup with the church if they simply open the door. According to Patterson:
“The prospect of entering a home and dining with the family in the ancient Near East was the ultimate expression of human friendship, depicting the desire for an intimacy of relationship surpassed only by those relationships existing within an actual family34.
The Greek term for eat, deipnēso, in the context of the first century, refers to the main daily meal — deipnon.35 We are not talking about a breakfast bagel on the way out the door to work, or a quick lunch break, but a family dinner full of fellowship.
Summary: The wealthy, self-reliant church at Laodicea had become so disgustingly, spiritually lukewarm, that Jesus was actually outside of their metaphorical door. But, if anyone was to hear his voice and opens the door to let him back in, He would gladly come back inside and fellowship.
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Given the historical and literary context, how might we apply Revelation 3:20 to our lives today? Personally, I think there is a timely message in this passage for us in America, where we often become so preoccupied with wealth and self-reliance/independence that we can leave Jesus on the outside.
Dear friends, the American Dream is not the Christian Hope. Unfortunately, we often measure success — even in the church — by worldly and materialistic metrics. We should not be so focused on (secular) education and career — which are often just means to the ends of prosperity and luxury — that we relegate Christ to someone we visit for an hour or two a couple Sundays a month. As someone once said, He wants full custody, not weekend visitation.
Anyone who wants to be a true disciple of Christ must deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow Him (Luke 9:23). We should not strive to store up earthly treasures — treasures that can be stolen and perish — but heavenly treasures which cannot be stolen and will never perish (Mat 6:19-24). We have to first seek the Kingdom (Reign) of God and His righteousness (Mat 6:33). Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2), who has made possible our very existence (Jn 1:3, Col 1:16) does not want (nor deserve) to be left outside!
Furthermore, though the myth of meritocracy indoctrinates us to believe that we can and should “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps” and work hard to achieve our goals without help or “handouts,” we have to be totally dependent on Jesus. Without Him, we, like the Laodicean church, are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked (Rev 3:17). We cannot meritoriously work for our salvation (Rom 6:23, Eph 2:8-9, etc.); nor can we meritoriously work for our blessings.36
If we try to conflate our infatuation with material wealth and American self-reliance/independence on our spiritual lives, we may very well become lukewarm — distasteful to our Lord and Savior.
However, though we may often live our lives for the sake of the wrong ultimate end (prosperity and luxury) and the wrong means to the end (self-reliant, independent “hard work”), Jesus is eager and willing to come back into our lives, into our homes, into our relationships, into our churches — if we only hear His voice and let Him in for fellowship. As the old hymn goes:
What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
What do you think about this discussion of Revelation 3:20? Have you heard it applied in different ways? How might you apply it to your life, relationships, home, church, etc.? Please feel free to leave a comment below. I pray this post, at least in some way, was helpful. Thank you for visiting CatchForChrist.net. God Bless!
- The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Re 3:20.
- Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 28.
- F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 851.
- J. Christian Wilson, “Polycarp (Person),” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 389.
- Paige Patterson, Revelation, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 39, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2012), 21.
- Morris, 29
- Cross and Livingstone, 367
- Morris, 29
- Cross and Livingstone, 1602.
- Patterson, 21
- Cross and Livingstone, 1200.
- Patterson, 21
- Cross and Livingstone, 778.
- Patterson, 21
- Cross and Livingstone, 1133
- Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids, eds., Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 1028.
- Martin and Davids, 1028
- Cross and Livingstone, 577
- Morris, 53
- Martin and Davids, 1028
- Martin and Davids, 1029.
- Morris, 83
- Patterson, 136
- Cross and Livingstone, 1585
- Cornelius Tacitus, Annales (Latin), quoted in Morris, 85
- Morris, 85
- Ibid, 84
- Patterson, 136
- E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 10.
- Patterson, 136, 139
- Patterson, 139-40
- Patterson, 143.
- Patterson, 143
- Patterson, 144
- Morris, 86
- I’ll save a discussion of the so-called prosperity gospel, speaking over things, naming and claiming things, believing in some sort of Christian karma, etc. for a later post