This is the most familiar verse in the Book of Revelation. Although often used in evangelistic appeals, it is the invitation by Jesus to believers—to the church at Laodicea, which existed in the first century after His crucifixion and resurrection. The Christians there had become lukewarm and tepid, causing the Lord to say that He would vomit them from His mouth (Revelation 3:16).
The image of Jesus knocking at the door of the church is striking. Remember that the Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the church. The church is His bride, whom He loved and washed from her sins (Revelation 1:5).
Also, throughout the Book of Revelation, Jesus is presented as “the Lamb,” who is seated on the throne and being worshiped: “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power” (Revelation 4:10-11). “You … have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). Then He stands and opens the scroll that initiates the beginning periods of judgments on the earth. He is pictured directing, executing and overseeing increasingly horrific global events.
Universal chaotic sounds explode as the heavens and the earth shake with crackling cosmic shifts of upheaval and human anguish.
Earlier, in the opening chapter of Revelation, Jesus is described as having a face that shines like the power of the sun and eyes that penetrate like flames of fire. His voice thunders like the waves against the shore. This awesome, terrifying vision causes the Apostle John to write, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead” (Revelation 1:17, NLT).
Then Jesus is pictured speaking to seven first-century churches, though we should remember that His instruction applies to churches throughout history, up to the present day. The last church described is the church of the Laodiceans. Jesus wants to come into His church, but the door is closed and He cannot enter. What’s wrong with this picture?
Jesus, “the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8), is blocked from entering His own church. “Hear my voice,” He pleads. He is not forcing His way inside, but He is giving those inside a choice. Jesus, that great Shepherd who came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), is now seeking access to the sheep He found and saved (Luke 15:6).
God is also patiently waiting to be invited into the hearts of all mankind. Adam and Eve were given a choice—would it be the tree of life or the tree that brought death? Moses placed a choice before ancient Israel: “I set before you life and death. … Choose life, that you may live” (Cf. Deuteronomy 30:19). Joshua told the people, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). The Prophet Elijah called the people to choose between God and the idols of Baal. And Jesus spelled out the options to the religious leader: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).
Jesus has taken the initiative; He will condescend. He will seek to enter a closed door that has shut Him out. He desires to talk to, share and fellowship with the ones He loves, His redeemed.
The knocking makes a sound. Can’t they hear it? What is preventing them from answering the door? Are they preoccupied? Is it possible those inside don’t want to open the door? Or is there just no urgency to respond?
Jesus said that true disciples hear and know His voice. They hear His voice and they follow Him. Those who do not hear His voice are not His disciples (John 10:27). When He comes for His church, it will be the sound of His voice that will resurrect those who have died and believed in Jesus. His church will be evacuated to meet Him, the Lord, in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). But here it appears, doesn’t it, that His own people are not responding to His voice, as He repeatedly knocks and patiently waits at the door of His church.
Is He knocking at the door of the institutional church? Is the Savior outside their lives? Does He want entrance to those He redeemed who have become casual and indifferent to Him? An “evil heart of unbelief” hardens “through the deceitfulness of sin,” and believers become “dull of hearing” (Hebrews 3:13, 5:11).
Jesus wants to have a meal with His church. The most intimate of close fellowship in Hebrew tradition was people eating together, having “a seat at the table,” sharing nourishment. Holy Communion is the “table of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 10:21). “He prepares a table before me” (Psalm 23:5). Did they forget the Last Supper? How, on the night Jesus was betrayed, He promised to sit down with them in the Kingdom to come? The marriage supper of the Lamb is the final picture of full acceptance.
T.S. Elliott wrote that “hollow men” are those who hear the call and refuse to heed it. The Lord of the church is seeking to enter His church. He presents them with the choice, “Open up or shut me out.”
And the consequences are clear. Jesus says, “I love you, rebuke and chasten you. Be zealous and repent” (Cf. Revelation 3:19). Open the door now! Each of us has something we would not like the Lord to identify in our lives, but there is no barrier that His eyes cannot see. What is your closed door?
Jesus knows why there is no response to His knocking. Spoiled by their prosperity, believers are complacent and content. They feel they “have need for nothing.” Jesus says they are “wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17). Too much of everything resulted in the loss of the Lord’s presence and fellowship. Could that be true of us today?
C.S. Lewis wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: Those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘thy will be done.'”
An old hymn puts it this way: “Have you any room for Jesus, He who bore your load of sin? As He knocks and asks admission, sinners, will you let Him in? Room for Jesus, King of Glory, hasten now His Word obey, swing the heart’s door widely open, bid Him enter while He may.”
Ross S. Rhoads is special assistant to Franklin Graham and chaplain of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version. The Scripture quotation marked NLT is taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, ©1996, 2004, 2007 Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Ill.