Bible students often have a common question about Revelation 3:20 and its intended audience.
The text reads, “Look! I am standing at the door and I am knocking. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter the house and I will eat with him and he will eat with me.”
Is this a gospel invitation to a lost person? Or is this an invitation to a believer? These two options will be explored in this blog post.
Photo Credit: Sul Art
I. THE CONTEXT OF REVELATION 3:20
Revelation 3:20 is part of the section of messages to the seven churches in the cities of Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7); Syrna (Rev 2:8-11); Pergamum (Rev 2:12-17); Thyatira (Rev 2:12-17); Sardis (Rev 3:1-6); Philadelphia (Rev 3:7-13); Laodicea (Rev 3:14-22). Jesus was the source of these messages based on the description of Jesus being the first and the last (Rev 1:17). Jesus was the living one who died and was alive forever (Rev 1:18a). He held the keys of death and the grave (Rev 1:18b). While this does not explicitly say “Jesus,” the only person that it can refer to which matches that description is Jesus.
II. AN EXPOSITION OF REVELATION 3:20
First, Jesus called attention by saying, “Look!’ (NLT) or “Listen” (NET) or “Behold” (ESV). These translations come from the Greek word ἰδου which is an aorist, middle, imperative of εἰδον, which is from the principle part ὁραω meaning “I see, notice, experience.” This word is often used to heighten the awareness of the reader and to grab the reader’s attention.
B. “I am standing at the door”
After grabbing the attention of the readers and hearers Jesus said, “I am standing,” which is the Greek word, ἑστηκα. This is a perfect tense verb but with the present force (Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996] 579-580). One commentary says that this perfect tense can “indicate that Jesus took this stance at some previous point and continues to maintain it” (M. Robert Mulholland, “Revelation,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, [Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2011], 18:463). However, the better explanation is that this verb is “lexically nuanced” because there is little distinction between the act and results (Wallace, Greek Grammar, 580).
C. “and I am knocking.”
Included in Jesus’ statement that he was standing at the door was that he also was knocking. This comes from the verb κρουω which means “I strike, knock.” This verb is the present, active, indicative form with a present progressive force. The present progressive force describes a seen that is in progress (Ibid., 518-519).
D. “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door”
This first clause, “If anyone hears my voice,” introduces a third class conditional statement with ἐαν plus a verb ἀκουςῃ, which is in the subjunctive mood. This third class conditional statement is uncertain of fulfillment but still is likely to be true (Ibid., 699). The referent here for “my voice” is Jesus’ voice, originally seen in Rev 1:17-18. The second clause, “and opens the door,” includes the second verb of the third class conditional statement which is uncertain of fulfillment but likely to be true. The verb used here is ἀνοιξῃ which is an action to be followed after the hearing of Jesus’ voice in the first clause. The “door” in this clause is the same door that Jesus was standing at and knocking on earlier in verse.
E. “I will enter the house”
Next, the future tense verb, ἐλευσομαι, is used in a way that if someone both hears Jesus’ voice and opens the door, then Jesus would enter the house. The Greek phrase, προς αὐτον, would seem to be translated “into him,” but this is an incorrect use of ἐλευσομαι προς αὐτον. The correct translation as seen above is “I will enter the house.” That translation is a dynamic translation of “I will enter to/towards him.”
Since Jesus was standing at the door and knocking, it is likely that the “entering” of Jesus was to be inside the house. If John was trying to describe that Jesus would “come into him,” he would not have used ἐλευσομαι προς but instead would have used ἐλευσομαι εἰς. Of all eight uses of ἐλευσομαι προς in the New Testament, that phrase is never used to describe penetration into a person. Instead, it is used to describe coming in to the presence of a person or a building.
Examples of ἐλευσομαι προς are:
- “the girl hurried back to the king” (Mark 6:25, NLT),
- “Joseph . . . went to Pilate” (Mark 15:43, NLT),
- “Gabriel came to her [Mary] (Luke 1:28, NLT),
- Peter “had a vision in which he saw an angel of God coming toward him” (Acts 10:3, NLT),
- “you enter the home of Gentiles” (Acts 11:3, NLT),
- Paul and Silas “returned to the home of Lydia” (Acts 16:40, NLT),
- Paul “went to the synagogue service” (Acts 17:2, NLT),
- “Paul went in and prayed for him” (Acts 28:8, NLT).
Therefore, it is clear that in Rev 3:20 Jesus would go into the house and eat with the person who let him in. Jesus would not go into the person who let him in, but he would go in to the person who let him through the door.
III. IS REVELATION 3:20 TO THE LOST OR TO BELIEVERS?
The question still remains, is Revelation 3:20 a gospel invitation to a lost person or an invitation to believers?
It is important to remember that Rev 3:20 is included in a passage where seven churches are addressed. In this passage Jesus provided a commendation of the first six churches (Ephesus 2:2-3, Symrna 2:9, Pergamum 2:13, Thyatira 2:19, Sardis 3:1b, Philadelphia 3:8-9). However, Jesus had nothing positive to say about the church of Laodicia. From the very beginning Jesus said that they were neither hot nor cold (Rev 3:15), but they were lukewarm. Jesus said that he would spit them out of his mouth (Rev 3:16). The people were content saying that they were rich and had everything that they wanted; therefore they did not need a thing (Rev 3:17). Jesus saw them as wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Rev 3:17). Jesus wanted them to buy gold, white garments, and ointment for their eyes (Rev 3:18). Jesus said that he would correct and discipline everyone he loved, so the Laodicea church should be diligent and turn from their lukewarm state (Rev 3:19).
The use of the word “church” lends the interpreter to believe that this is a church of believers, and therefore Rev 3:20 is an invitation to a believer. This Greek word, ἐκκλησια is used Rev 1:20; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14 and can be used in the NT several different ways. It can describe a regularly summoned legislative body (assembly) or a causal gathering of people (gathering), but the likely use here in Rev 3:14 to refer to the church in Laodicea is a people with shared belief in Christianity (community or congregation) (William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000], 303-304). While it is likely that within any church there are some people who are not true believers, the focus of Revelation 3:20 is directed toward believers (John F. Walvoord, “Revelation” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck. [Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985], 941-942).
While the church was lukewarm (Rev 3:15-16) and content in their money (Rev 3:17), Jesus shared that he desired a relationship with them. This church likely included believers as the majority, but those believers had not been in close fellowship with Jesus.
RESOURCES I USED IN THIS POST
Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Mulholland, M. Robert. “Revelation.” Vol. 18 of the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2011.
Wallace, Daniel. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996.
Walvoord, John F. “Revelation.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.