Years ago, I was sitting on my front porch reading when a voice rang out, “Sir, we would like to talk to you about whether you have invited Jesus in your heart.” These were not cultists at my door but evangelical Christians concerned with the state of my heart, pleading with me to open the door and let Jesus in. While I appreciated their zeal for Christian witness, I was troubled by their approach. If Jesus was waiting on me to let Him into my heart for salvation, I knew that door would never open.
This misunderstanding has brought about terrible consequences in the way people hear Jesus’ actual call to repent and believe. Having reduced Jesus from that of an enthroned King issuing His calls through His ambassadors to “kiss the Son . . . [lest] you perish in the way” (Ps. 2:12), we have made Him into a peasant on His knees, desperately hoping that we will accept Him—as if He were the One needing our approval. In this way, we have minimized the need for people to take Him seriously. If Jesus loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life, as is asserted in tandem with the plea to invite Christ into our hearts today, it really doesn’t matter if I let Him in, does it?
This knock is a knock of discipline and judgment on a church that has forgotten its mission.
The idea of Jesus’ knocking on the door of our hearts is typically based on Revelation 3:20: “Behold, 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.” This verse is not addressing the status of the individual’s heart but is instead a call for the church in Laodicea to repent for having departed from the gospel of the kingdom Christ gave it to proclaim.
Many scholars recognize that the city of Laodicea lacked clean water and needed to channel water into the city from local hot springs. By the time the water reached the city, it was often polluted, lukewarm, and useless. Jesus appears to link the church’s spiritual state with the foul experience of receiving lukewarm water. Just as they sometimes vomited their own drinking water, Jesus proclaims that He will likewise vomit them out since their works are useless for the kingdom.
What was the issue in the church at Laodicea? Jesus says the church considered itself rich, prosperous, and in need of nothing. The people there were ignorant of their spiritual poverty and refused to realize they were “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (v. 17). The church in Laodicea was relishing its prosperity and abandoning the gospel. Its ministry was full of pride and self-confidence, lacking dependence on Jesus for spiritual life and witness. Its message began to reflect this autonomy. The ministry of reconciliation—making known the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—was no longer of first importance, but the focus instead was on the people’s own plans, resources, and ideas of what the church should be. Their ministry was not leading people to Jesus as the Savior from sins, but it became a ministry of self-righteousness. They had forgotten that Jesus came to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32).
In this context, Jesus issues a severe warning to the church: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” This knock is a knock of discipline and judgment on a church that has forgotten its mission. When Jesus comes to the church in Laodicea, what will He find? If the church refuses to hear Him, He will throw open the door in judgment. But, if the church opens the door to His call to repent, He will come in and dine with them, and they will enjoy His presence.
Jesus in Revelation 3:20 is not on His knees at the door of our hearts wanting in. If we are to make any application of this verse to individuals, what we have is a warning to those who profess faith in Christ that they must repent lest harsh discipline fall on them. This verse in context, however, is a serious call to the corporate church to repent for becoming confident in its outward prosperity while abandoning the one message that brings life to this lost world. A refusal to repent will bring Jesus’ discipline on the church.
When the message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is abandoned for a confidence in our own resources, then we no longer function as a true church and risk being expelled. This warning is just as much for the church today as it was for Laodicea in the first century. Do all of our building projects and efforts to help the church grow demonstrate that we are most concerned to be faithful witnesses of Jesus’ name, or are they simply guises for making us feel better about ourselves? It is this concern that drives Jesus’ knock on the church door in Revelation 3:20. The church should never forget why it exists: to proclaim the ministry of reconciliation to a lost world.
Rev. Christopher J Gordon is preaching pastor at Escondido United Reformed Church in Escondido, Calif., and featured teacher of the program Abounding Grace Radio.