Thursday, November 08, 2007

A Text without a Context, Pt. 3 - Dr. Bob Payne

Continued from September…

PASSAGE #2: "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." (Revelation 3:20)

Revelation 3:20 is a passage that has been used for many years in gospel presentations. It is normally used as a "clincher" verse to demonstrate a person's need for personal acceptance of Christ as Savior. It is usually applied this way: "Christ is knocking at your heart's door . . . all you must do is invite Him in and He will save you from your sins." Most picture in their minds Warner Sallman’s Famous picture, Christ Knocking at Heart’s Door. BUT, is this an appropriate and contextually accurate way to apply this passage? Furthermore, is this application theologically correct? I believe that the answer to both of these questions must be a resounding "no!"

I would like to convey through this article that Revelation 3:20 was never intended to be used as a salvation verse at all, but is actually an exhortation to believers. I will present my case in two parts. First, I will demonstrate that using Revelation 3:10 as a salvation verse rests upon a defective interpretation of the text. Second, I will also seek to present a contextually accurate understanding of the passage under consideration.


Is Revelation 3:20 a salvation passage? Look at the context. In Revelation 3, verses 14-22 we find the last of the messages to the seven churches. Verse 14 tells us that Christ is addressing this letter to the "angel [most assuredly a reference to a pastor, not an angelic being] of the church of the Laodiceans." From this point on, there is no indication whatsoever that our Lord is dealing with anyone else but believers. No doubt these Christians were disobedient, careless and complacent, but the context does not even hint to us that these people were anything else but genuine believers.

Notice the language of v. 19: "as many as I love." The Greek verb translated "love" here is phileo. As Dr. Daniel B. Wallace writes in his article, "Revelation 3:20 and the Offer of Salvation:" "Here phileo is used for ‘love'--a term that is never used of God/Jesus loving unbelievers in the NT. (Indeed, it would be impossible for God to have this kind of love for an unbeliever, for it routinely speaks of enjoyment and fellowship . . . )." Reading further in v. 19, we notice the words: "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten [italics mine]." The passage indicates that the ones whom Christ loves, He disciplines. According to Hebrews 12:6-8 only true sons are disciplined by the Lord, not those who are unsaved:

"For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons."

God does not discipline those who are not His. Clearly, the context reveals that only saved people are in view in Revelation 3:20, not unbelievers.1

The concept of a person "inviting Jesus into his heart" is also attributed to Revelation 3:20. It is based upon a careless translation of eiseleusomai pros auton. There is no problem with the A.V.'s rendering of this Greek clause: "I will come in to him." However, a difficulty occurs when interpreters try to translate the clause: "I will come into him." The two meanings are quite different. Neither the Greek nor the English is hinting at penetration ("into"), but rather direction ("to"). If Christ would have been indicating penetration into the human heart, the Greek word eis would have been used, and the translation "I will come into him" would be justified. But the Greek word pros is used here, indicating (in this context) motion towards someone. Wallace clarifies the issue for us:

"The idea of ‘come into' would be expressed with eis as the independent preposition and would suggest a penetration into the person (thus, spawning the idea of entering into one's heart). However, spatially prov" means toward, not into. In all eight instances of eisercomai pros in the NT, the meaning is ‘come in toward/before a person' (i.e., enter a building, house, etc., so as to be in the presence of someone), never penetration into the person himself/herself. In some instances, such a view would not only be absurd, but inappropriate (cf. Mark 6:25; 15:43; Luke 1:28; Acts 10:3; 11:3; 16:40; 17:2; 28:8)."

It is perhaps best to avoid such expressions as "inviting Jesus into your heart." It is, at best, an expression that is extra-biblical and theologically questionable. Moreover, the terminology can create great confusion in the minds of children.2 It would be far better for us to use the biblical term, "faith."3 Wallace has some significant observations:

"Among other things, to use this text as a salvation verse is a perversion of the simplicity of the gospel. Many people have allegedly 'received Christ into their hearts' without understanding what that means or what the gospel means. Although this verse is picturesque, it actually muddies the waters of the truth of salvation."


In Revelation 3:20 Christ is portrayed as standing outside the lives of church members. The Laodicean church had become complacent and self-sufficient. They no longer felt that they needed the Lord, for they were "rich, and increased with goods," and "had need of nothing." They were about to be judged, and now Christ tenderly appeals to them one more time, as individuals, to return to intimate fellowship with Him. William R. Newell writes,

"Here we have Christ in all His tenderness, His unfathomable devotion! In these last words to the Church, the love of the Bridegroom makes Him forget wholly the work of the Judge. It is The Beloved, of the Song of Solomon (Song of Solomon 5:2).

This final plea of the Lord Jesus to the individual heart, where he has been shut out of the love and fellowship of the general company, should win every heart that UNDERSTANDS!" (The Book of the Revelation, p. 79).

Our text says, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock." The perfect tense of the verb histemi portrays the standing as a past action with present, continuing results. The present tense of the verb krouo indicates a continuous knocking. Christ's appeal to the individuals of the church (as well as to lukewarm Christians today) is to open the door ("if any man hear my voice, and open the door"), so as to let Him back into their miserable, empty lives. Then, and only then could the intimate relationship with their Lord be restored ("I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me."). Concerning deipneso ("sup"--which is a metaphor for fellowship), J. Hampton Keathley III writes in his internet commentary on the book of Revelation:

"Dine is a Greek word which referred to the main meal of the day—a real feast. This Greek word, deipnew, was used not only of the chief meal of the day—a full course dinner—but of the meal which was the occasion for hospitality and fellowship. At this meal, however, He is the host. It is He who sets the table and we are His guests dining on that which He has provided."

Revelation 3:20 is clearly a passage written to Christians to repent of sin and be restored to full fellowship with the Lord. Again, Keathley writes,

" . . . this passage is addressed to the church—to believers. This is a call to fellowship with the Savior. As an invitation to Christians, it's a call to repent, as commanded in verse 19. It is a call for confession of one's sins with a renewal of mind and heart to continue to draw upon the glorious life of Christ daily through walking by the Spirit and living in the Word. It means abiding in Christ, the vine (John 15:1-7; 1 John 1:7-10; Eph. 4:20-24; 5:14-18; Rom. 8:1-16)."

May each one of us heed Christ's appeal in the midst of this uncaring and spiritually apathetic generation!

1. Walvoord agrees, "This was an appeal to Christians rather than to non-Christians" (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament, p. 942).
2. How well I remember a Junior High student telling me of the time when her little brother "asked Jesus into his stomach" because he couldn't understand how Jesus could live in a person's heart!
3. We should all reevaluate our soteriological terminology to make sure that it is biblical. How cautious we need to be!