It’s quite a picture, isn’t it? The God of the Universe, Word become Flesh, Jesus Himself, standing humbly and patiently at the door to someone’s house, knocking gently. These are the words we read in 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” (NIV).
Other translations have “behold” in place of “here I am,” or “gate” in place of “door,” but the meaning is the same—God is asking permission to come in. For many, it can be confusing. Why would the Creator, who can do all things if He so desires, not just open the door and enter? Why would He knock and wait for an invitation? And what does this mean on a deeper level? Here, let’s explore what Jesus means when he says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” from Revelation 3:20.
What Does ‘Behold I Stand at the Door and Knock’ Mean in Revelation 3:20?
Most scholars believe what Jesus means in this passage is that He wants to come into our hearts and have an intimate, covenantal relationship with us, but Jesus doesn’t want to barge or bully His way in. God gives humans free will, including the ability to make our own decision about whether or not we want to be part of God’s family.
The apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation based on an apocalyptic vision he had while he was on the island of Patmos. Bible scholars believe it was written about 95 A.D., and the primary audience was the seven churches in that region, western Asia Minor, each of whom are addressed in the vision. Taking a look at the original Greek, John uses the word idou, which Strong’s Concordance defines as see, lo, behold, or look. (Today, we might say, “Hey, you!” or “See here, now.”)
“I stand” is translated from hestēka, from the root histémi, which also can be interpreted as I appoint, establish, place, or position myself. John uses the word thyran, from the root thura, which translates as door, gate, or entranceway. And for “knock,” John uses krouō, also meaning to strike or beat a door with a stick to gain admittance. Basically, the sentence is showing us that Jesus has placed Himself at the entranceway, banging against it in the hopes someone will hear and let Him come inside.
Is Rev. 3:20 about Personal Salvation or the Church?
The verse is part of a larger message to the church in Laodicea, which no longer burns with passion and fervor for Christ but has cooled and grown lukewarm, or apathetic. This church and its people mistakenly think they are in a good position and have all they need, but they do not. Jesus wants them to feel shame about their prideful state and realize they are lost without Him and, in their apathy, they are falling away from right relationship with their Creator.
The lines just before His invitation urge the people of the Laodicean church to “buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent” (Revelation 3:18-19). To that end, Jesus issues an invitation, knocking at the door of their lukewarm, apathetic hearts, collectively and individually.
As with all of God’s Word, this verse has a universal and varied meaning. It is about the church at Laodicea, yes, but it’s also directed toward any church—indeed any person—who once knew God with zeal but has now become indifferent or otherwise cooled. It is about the salvation of the body of Christ, both individually and as a whole, to be ignited with the flame and fire of the Holy Spirit in a full, beautiful relationship with Jesus Christ our Savior.
It’s a personal invitation, however, for despite what the church as a whole does, Jesus is always concerned about the individual. It is a tangible, personal, direct relationship, person to person, not abstract or theoretical.
What Invitation Is Jesus Extending When He Stands and Knocks?
Jesus knocks with an invitation. He says in this verse that if anyone hears His voice and opens the door, He will come in and eat with that person, and they with Him. The concept of eating, of sharing a meal, was a very intimate occurrence. In the culture of that time, eating together was an act of deep fellowship and friendship, and there were certain rules and customs.
Consider how Joseph, when he was reunited with his brothers after they sold him into Egyptian slavery, invited them to a meal at his home, but seated them at a separate table: “They served him by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians” (Genesis 43:32).
Consider also how upset and scornful the Pharisees and others were because Jesus dined with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:11, Luke 19:7). The intimacy of eating with people, breaking bread, and sharing in that simple life-sustaining fellowship, was an important cultural moment. It’s the establishment and fullness of a relationship.
Jesus is saying here that if anyone hears His knock and opens the door, they will have access to an intimate relationship with Him. It doesn’t matter how lukewarm they’d grown—they’re welcomed back into His love with open arms.
Why Would Jesus Need to Knock on the Door of a Church?
Jesus—who is God, Lord of All, the Great I Am—doesn’t need to knock, but He chooses to do so. He doesn’t force His way into our hearts. He wants us to choose Him. Not only that, but His knocking correlates with His words to the disciples in Luke 12:35-48. In verses 35-36, Jesus states, “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.”
We are to keep our lamps “burning,” not grow cool and become lukewarm as the Laodicean church has. We are to be watchful, dressed, and ready, so when our master Jesus returns and knocks, we can “open the door.” As Jesus says similarly in Matthew 25:13, keep watch, “because you do not know the day or the hour” the bridegroom will come. He doesn’t want us to miss our chance for salvation.
Whether Jesus is speaking to an unbeliever, a believer grown cold over time, or a church that has lost its fire for Christ, the most important thing to know from this verse is that Jesus wants us—every one of us. He’s there, knocking and hoping, eager for an invitation and acceptance inside. If we open the door, He’ll meet us in relationship, and we’ll be part of His forever family.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Marcia Straub
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.
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